Tips for making better home recordings

Always experiment! The only way to know what sounds good in your home studio and what to avoid is to try different approaches to the same thing you have always done. So much of your ability to create comes from trial and error and constantly honing your ears and your technique. As well as your skills of engineering, producing, and listening to other recordings you have done. So do not be afraid or as I say LAZY to try new things you maybe surprised at what you find.

Markallanwolfe.com

markallanwolfe.com

Focus on your instrument.
If you’re a vocalist preparing to record, warm up and do your vocal exercises. Maybe a throat spray to lubricate your vocals will help (though be wary of the sprays that desensitize your throat). Wear a scarf around your neck for a couple of days prior to entering the studio to help keep your pipes warm. And just do the basic stuff (avoid smoking, no dairy) to keep your throat moist and phlegm free.

If you’re a guitar player, change your strings before going into the studio – especially if it’s an acoustic guitar. If you’re a bass player and you don’t change your strings once a month, you need to change those strings before you bring that bass into the studio. It’ll help the tone, the output, and you’ll stay in better tune.

If you’re a drummer, change the drum heads. If the heads have been on for too long, they’re going to sound dull and they’re not going to stay in tune. Also, take time to tune the drums correctly – you may even want to tune the drums differently for different songs.

Move around the room
Physically move the instrument or amplifier to different parts of the room. It can make a big difference in the tone you get. If you’re recording an acoustic guitar, violin, piano, sax, or any acoustic instrument, and you have it up against a wall with a lot of glass and wood, you’ll get a more reflective sound than if you’re up against a baffle. If you’re recording an amp, don’t just turn the amp on, stick a mic in front of it, and hit “record.” The amp can sound totally different in different parts of the room, so play around with different spots until you get the right tone for the track.

For any performer, vocalist or instrumentalist, lighting control can also help set a mood. Recording a slow, sultry track? Dim all the lights, light up a candle, and get in the groove.

Move around the room
Physically move the instrument or amplifier to different parts of the room. It can make a big difference in the tone you get. If you’re recording an acoustic guitar, violin, piano, sax, or any acoustic instrument, and you have it up against a wall with a lot of glass and wood, you’ll get a more reflective sound than if you’re up against a baffle. If you’re recording an amp, don’t just turn the amp on, stick a mic in front of it, and hit “record.” The amp can sound totally different in different parts of the room, so play around with different spots until you get the right tone for the track.
Angle your amp
Raising an amp off the ground or angling it so the face of the amp is at 45 degrees can have dramatic effects, depending on the room and the amp. If you’re angling the amp, essentially you’re decoupling the amp from the floor. The floor may be wood, and it may have a resonant cavity below it that’s sucking away your low end, or adding more low end because it’s vibrating. By pulling the amp off the floor, you’re decoupling it. Even if you’re angling it, only part of the amp is touching the floor, so you’re basically removing the floor from the equation in terms of the tone you’re getting.Also, if you have an amp perpendicular to the floor, all the energy is going forward, and low to the ground. Let’s say you’ve got an 8′ ceiling. You’ve got many more options if the amp is kicked up at a 45º angle. Now you can put a mic up in the corner to get a little more of the room. If you’re going for a really tight sound, you might just want to leave it on the floor. Remember, in a studio they’re going to have a dead floor. They’ll have that under control so you wont have these pockets of resonance under the floor. Chances are, your home studio won’t be as predictable.

Mixing board

mixing board

Play with mic placement and angles
Mic placement and mic angles go a long way toward capturing different tones from the same source. For example, to help record a very sibilant vocal performer, try angling the mic up toward a 45º angle and you might find a lot of that popping and hissing goes away.

Mic placement

It’s been said before, but bears repeating—the best way to find the optimum placement of a microphone is to find the spot where the instrument sounds best. Do this by putting a finger in one ear and listening to the instrument with the other, moving around until you find the spot where it sounds best to you. Then put a mic in that spot.

I rarely use eq when tracking acoustics—so many tones can be achieved by placing the right microphone in the right spot that electronic equalization is usually unnecessary. For example, you might put a microphone 6 to 8 inches from the guitar, pointing at the neck about mid-way between the sound hole and the 12th fret.

When you listen to the signal, you may decide that the mic is picking up too much of the guitar’s low end—it sounds boomy. If this is the case, you could either point the mic farther up the neck and away from the sound hole (where a lot of the low end comes from), or you could pull the mic back another 6 or 8 inches (which will lessen the proximity effect of the mic). If the sound of the mic is too bright, you can move the mic closer to the sound hole or closer to the instrument. This isn’t an either/or choice; the character of the low end created by proximity effect is different from that attained by moving the mic closer to the sound hole.

Another approach is to use the off-axis frequency response of a mic to your advantage. Earlier I mentioned that cardioid microphones are more sensitive to sounds coming from in front than from the side; that’s true as an average, but many microphones exhibit a decreased sensitivity to certain frequencies as the source is moved off axis (that is, away from the front of the capsule). As an example, at 30 degrees off axis, a specific mic may be 2 dB less sensitive at 1 kHz, and 4 dB less sensitive at 10 kHz. For the user, this means that one way to change the sound captured by that mic would be to point it slightly away from the sound source.

Studio Mic

Studio Mic

Using Mic patterns to your advantage

Most microphones sold these days have a cardioid pickup pattern, which means that the mic is most sensitive to sounds coming from in front of the capsule, and is less sensitive to sounds coming from the sides and the rear. Most cardioid mics have a pronounced proximity effect, which means that the low end response of the mic is increased as it is moved closer to the sound source. But don’t forget that both omnidirectional mics (which are sensitive to sounds coming from all directions) and figure 8 mics (bi-directional mics which are more sensitive from the front and back and less sensitive to sounds coming from the sides) can be enormously useful, as I’ll detail in a bit.

Studio ambiance

You know, we’ve all read about those singers who recorded their hit song while surrounded by their necessities—their lava lamps, their incense, their ginseng tea and their aromatherapy candles; they want the darkened room, along with (I suppose) their bunny slippers, their spiritual adviser and the studio to be at 71.5 degrees and 42% humidity. Although this is cool to a degree somethings need to be and others are just personal preference. like if your just recording the music portion then yes I totally dig the whole lava lamps and stuff. I have them as well as different things to help stimulate the whole atmosphere.

With the singer I want light—enough light so that the singer can see their words, and, if they’re singing with a band, enough light so that all concerned can see each other. I’ve never been able to see that building a womb for the singer results in a performance any better than their performance while standing in the middle of a well-lit recording studio.

During the course of my years of recording I have taken a slightly different approach to things by experimenting in many different ways and encourage you to do the same.  I have sang and recorded my guitar in closets, bedrooms, laundry rooms and bathrooms. And you know what? They sounded great! I pretty much make sure that the vocalist has someplace to set their water (tea, coffee, or whatever), a music stand, a chair to sit on while they listen to playbacks, and off we go. Don’t misunderstand, though—I will try to make myself comfortable, but I have never seen the need to be straight by the book always. Sometimes the best recordings come by accident as well.

I will post more on this subject as time goes by, in the meantime I would be thankful for you to share some of your experiences if you would? What works for you? Where have you found the best ideas that work? Why not share them with the world for maybe someone can benefit from your experiment make a hit record and owe it all to you. Also all of the tracks submitted on this blog were recorded in my home studio,

Mark Allan Wolfe–www.markallanwolfe.com —wolfiesmusicpublishing.com

Mark Allan Wolfe

Mark Allan Wolfe

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