Hey there UGers, this is the beginning of a series of columns for recording at home.
This part is an introduction for recording noobs, but experienced home recorders may find this useful also.
For anyone serious about this subject, i recommend 'The Poetics of Rock: Cutting Tracks, Making Records' by Albin Zak it's very helpful and has some great ideas for getting unique recording sounds at home and in professional studio.
First off, a brief outline of the jobs in a studio and what they entail.
This one's easy, the singer/drummer/guitarist/bassist/trombonist etc who's part is being recorded.
This person is responsible for mic setup and sound checks, basically everything involved with the sound once it leaves the instrument and enters the computer or console.
Many people ask "what the hell does a producer do?" Good question. A producer can be anything and everything in a studio, they can perform, write songs, do the job of the engineer, check the sound mix of a live recording, or all of the above. Most of all, the producer usually has the say on wether a take is good enough or wether it needs to be done. They also make sure everyone in the studio is doing what they're supposed to and keep a project running smoothly.
This will be covered in a later chapter, but the mixer is involved in the final editing of the song and it's parts in terms of stereo spectrum, EQ and volume.
Now in most home studios (like mine) one person plays all these parts, but it can help sharing the workload.
For example, when recording one of my band's songs, i am the engineer, the performer (for the guitar parts), the mixer, and usually the producer (for my own and the vocal takes).
In terms of your instrument gear, if it works, anything goes, but i cannot stress the point that the more money and time you invest in your gear, the better quality recording you will end up with. Decent amps can sound awful in oddly shaped rooms etc, whereas a cheap practice amp recorded into a $10 mic may sound like a million bucks in the same room. Mix and match, there is no wrong or right.
For all recordings, unless you are doing a guitar only instrumental and are using what is called 'direct in' (more on this later) you will need a microphone (assuming you already have all the required instruments and amps and effects for your recordings.) Many people ask, which microphone? For my bands first recording, we stuck a crappy $10 mic in the middle of a room and played a song, needless to say, it sounded awful. You can use one mic for all instruments ( currently I use a Shure PG57 for all instruments, and they all sound fine) or a different one for different situations (maybe a Shure SM57 for guitar and bass, some AKG drum mics, and a Neumann for vocals) This can be very expensive but also leads to a much clearer sound overall.
I suggest, if you can afford mid-priced mic, to get a Shure PG57. They only cost about $100NZD (roughly 80US), are extremely versatile, and are only a step below the industry standard for instrument mics (the SM57).
If you are interested in spending more on mics, eg a fully miked drum kit requires a minimum of 5 drum mics, I recommend surfing wikipedia for the best kinds and find out what your favourite artists use in the studio.
Now some people like a 'clean' sound and go instrument --> mic --> mixer/interface --> recording device (some people like me) but you can add things such as compressors and EQ's between the mic and the mixer, just like you would with effects between a guitar and an amp. This is quite advanced and is used for adding more coloration to a particular sound, and there is no right or wrong here, just mess around with stuff till you get a good sound. (For example, i run the vocals through my Boss GT8 guitar FX processor sometimes to get cool effects like distortion and echo).
Note: adding EQ's and compressors after the mixer can also work.
Direct In is a method of recording for electrical instruments such as guitars, basses, and keyboards, where you bypass the amp and microphone option and go directly from the instrument or effects chain to the recording device. For example, sometimes if i can't get a decent sound miking my amp, I'll go straight from my GT8 processor into the input of my computer. Some people believe this yields a "harsh", "cold" & "digital" sound, but in todays modern world of amp and speaker modeling, beautiful tones are now easier than ever to achieve.
Now we need something to process the sound that is being picked up by the mic and put it into your recording device. I use a small Behringer XENYX502 mixer that has a single preamp for the mic and is great for getting your levels right for different instruments, no fancy controls or effects just simple stuff here. For elaborate multi-instrument takes, I would recommend a larger (at least 16 track) mixer to get the job done, brands like Boss and Behringer are the go here. A simpler, sometimes more effective method is an Interface. These can be thought of as computer friendly mixers. They have inputs and level knobs etc, just like a mixer, but most have USB output, which is effective because it bypasses the (sometimes poor quality) soundcard in your computer and as a result you get a much clearer less digital sound with your recording. For these i suggest something like the mini M-BOX, which comes with ProTools.
Now, a recording device. This can be a simple computer equipped with audacity (a free, easy-to use recording program), an industry standard I-mac running Garageband, Protools and Logic, or just a simple 4 track tape recorder. Whatever you use, it will eventually need to be converted to digital for CD/IPOD use so you may want to consider cutting down the number of times you need to format and convert, so it will be easiest and most convenient to use a computer. I suggest an Apple, i use a standard I-mac with extra RAM, and it is extremely useful and convenient for my recording needs. Also, the portability of a laptop may want to be employed.
Many people argue what should be recorded first in a song, and it differs between producers, writers and songs. Maybe you need a good acoustic guitar track to lay the foundation, perhaps the bass to provide the groove. Personally, i like to set down the drums first, so that a solid rhythm can be played on, the trouble is it's hard for a drummer to play to a quiet click track because what they play is so loud. Experiment, there is no right or wrong for recording orders, if your bassist can play to a click track well then I'd advise to get the bass down first for a solid rhythm.
When you have recorded the foundation track, it's time to start adding layers. I'll usually do the bass after the drums, followed by a simple rhythm guitar track. From here, you can branch off and do the vocal work and some harmonies and backing vocals or you could lay down the guitar solos or some cool sound effects or whatever. Sometimes i find it easy to record each layer with only the drums and bass active to avoid to much muddle and it makes it easier to concentrate on what you are playing. It would be wise however, to include some type of instrument that plays a melody and/or chords when recording vocals as this makes it much easier for your singer to hit the right notes when they have something to match it to.
That's all for now, thanks for reading part 1 of "The Home Studio".