Make a Release-Quality Recording with Affordable Gear
You can make a release-quality recording using affordable hardware such as one of the BOSS multi-trackers or one of the many excellent computer Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) such as SONAR. You’ll need decent microphones and reasonably accurate loudspeakers or headphones to judge your efforts, but the quality of entry level mics and speakers is now surprisingly good too. Now, the main problems associated with making a great recording can be broken down into two areas — the sounds you record and the way you mix them. Putting the mics in the right place and not allowing your recording meters to bang into the red are also important factors but are relatively easy to deal with as there’s lots of information around pertaining to mic’ing, not least in the back issues section of the Sound On Sound web site. Visit soundonsound.com for additional recording tips.
Related: More Recording Tips
Anyway, let’s start at the beginning. Your song needs a sensible musical arrangement where the instruments provide the necessary rhythmic and melodic backing for the vocals, but without actually getting in the way of the vocals. That means choosing suitable sounds for guitars, synths, drums and so on, but it can also mean attending to details such as choosing the best chord inversions so that each instrument can be heard separately rather than blending into an impenetrable wall of sound.
Common issues here include choosing guitar sounds that are way too distorted and synth sounds that take up too much space. Most synths, including those made by Roland, come stuffed with preset sounds that are all honed and polished to sound fabulous when auditioned on their own. However, a mix has a sonic hierarchy where some sounds, such as vocals, need to be at the front of the mic while other sounds, such as synth pads need to sit further back. If you’re not great at re-programming your synth sounds, the most useful tools at your disposal are the high and low-cut shelving filters that you’ll find among your DAW EQ tools. The greatest area of congestion tends to be at the boundary between bass sounds and mid-range sounds as there’s a lot of overlap in the 120Hz to 300Hz range. If you use the low-cut filters to remove unnecessary low end from sounds (typically below 200Hz) other than the bass instrument and kick drum, the mix will sound dramatically cleaner. Don’t worry that the EQ’d sounds seem to be thin and weak when the track is solo’d — make your decision based on how they sound in the mix. Same deal with acoustic guitars — if they’re part of a busy pop mix then you can afford to lose some low end. Bright sounds tend to push their way to the front of the mix so use your high-cut filters to smooth out string pads so that they can take their rightful place behind the vocals. Don’t worry about the numbers — just reduce the frequency until it sounds right. These filters are usually applied at the mixing stage, but it pays to be aware of this filtering technique when choosing your initial sounds as you’ll then have some idea as to how far you can reshape them.
Consider the Arrangement…
Still on the subject of arrangement (and one of the most important recording tips), songs need to have dynamics. Try to vary the instrumentation so that the level and excitement builds up as the song progresses towards those final choruses. You can ring the changes by adding instruments at different stages in the song, but you may also want to try switching one instrument for another in the earlier parts of the song. This applies perhaps even more so to dance tracks where you need to keep up a sense of pace and excitement using rhythmic elements that can be mostly repetitive.
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