Top 10 Recording Tips

Top 10 Recording Tips

You will find many articles on the internet with tips and tricks for mixing and making a song sound it’s best. The best way to make sure the mix, and ultimately the final product sounds the best it can is to record it with excellence. With that in mind, here are my 10 tips for making a great recording.

1. Commit to a sound
We live in the digital age, options are great and we can use any number of plugins to craft sounds inside of our DAWs. We have an unlimited number of choices. However, creative producers hear a sound in their head and strive to capture it during the recording of the song. Don’t be afraid to be creative and commit to sounds early. Committing to a sound fosters creativity and can inspire you to try unique ideas that take you away from generic production techniques.

2. Pre-Production is Key
When you’re working with an artist, pre-production is a great time to work on lyrics, melody and song arrangements before you ever begin to press record. Additionally pre-production gives you a chance to build a relationship with the artist or band you are working with. You can earn their trust and that will go a long way in helping you make a great recording with them.

3. Get it right at the source
This is similar and yet different than committing to a sound. Getting it right at the source can be making sure that the guitarist is playing a guitar that has proper intonation. You can create the greatest guitar sound in the world, but if the guitar is out of tune in the middle of the fretboard, then your takes will sound bad. Another example of this would be using a noisy piece of gear. It would be a shame to to capture a great performance only to have it ruined because there is an annoying buzz or hum throughout the entire take.

4. Use High Pass filters
Many microphones and preamps will have a high pass filter that you can engage with the press of a button to take away unnecessary low end. You will see this topic debated a bit on the internet, but proper use of the high pass filter can really clean up and tighten things in the low end of your production.

5. Use caution before you stereo mic something
Early on in my career I was stereo mic’ing everything. Whatever the instrument was I would place a close mic on it and then stereo room mics. When it came time to mix, it was a muddy, reverberant mess. Be choosy when you use stereo microphone techniques. Not everything needs to sound like it’s in a big space. Often times I mic my upright piano with a single ribbon mic.

6. Use the gear your know
Nothing can kill the vibe of a session quicker than having to stop to learn how something works. It’s a temptation we all face. You get a new piece of equipment into your studio and you want to begin using it to make music. It’s great to have new gear, but balance out using something new with using something that you are familiar with. This is especially true if you are working with an artist under time constraints. Using something that are you familiar with will help you keep the session moving forward and save you time.

7. Label everything properly
Label the tracks that you record and label them properly. We’ve all seen the memes where everything is labelled, Audio 1, Audio 2, Audio 3, etc. If you do this, you are inevitably setting yourself up for a slow workflow. You will have to audition all of those tracks one at a time to find out what they are. Also, if you are sending the song off to a mixer, they will love you when they open up your session and can see, Kick In, Snare Top, Snare Bottom etc. It makes their job easy and will make you someone that they want to work with.

8. Backup, backup and backup
You never want to find yourself in the situation where you have to explain to a client that you have lost their song (or worse yet, album.) Many IT professionals will tell you that if it’s not backed up 3 times it isn’t backed up. When I am working on a session I have 2 drives going at the same time and I use the software Synchronize! Pro X. The drives are mirrored and I have synched up exactly. When I get ready to send the session off to a mixer, I will copy it again on another drive and send that third copy to them.

9. Leave enough headroom when recording
There have been many instances where I have needed to record a track and had a mic preamp and no external compressor. We are working in the digital age, and one good thing about that is the super low noise floor that digital offers. Keep your preamp low, and you can always bring the signal up later. This will help you safeguard against nasty sounding digital clipping distortion.

10. Maintain your focus
You, as the producer and engineer, need to maintain your focus. If you bring in an artist that is new to the studio, they are looking for your to have as the person of authority. When someone is paying you to make a recording for them they are looking for you to maintain focus and keeping the project moving forward. Make the artist feel comfortable. Maintaining your focus will help the artist to focus as well.

Are You Ready For A Record Label

Are you ready for a record label?

In the digital age where music is more accessible to listeners and listeners are more accessible to musicians than ever before, the role of record labels is in question.

Music has practically become free with the onslaught of online distribution and promotion, and labels have changed how they structure their deals. The "new deal" is much less artist friendly. With lower margins, the advances are much less, and the increasingly common 360 deal takes a percentage of all of the artists’ income (touring, merch, etc.).

Many artists who don’t want to sacrifice any creative control, lose big percentages of their income, or risk their material getting “shelved” (never getting released) have had to learn how to build their careers without the help of a label. Artists have been forced to get creative with how they market their music and interact with fans in order to build their following on their own, and many have succeeded at building a solid career this way. While some continue on the independent crusade, others who desire a level of success that requires a major label’s connections and budget finally sign a record deal once they have leverage (a big fanbase/social network numbers, significant record sales, etc.) and are thus able to land less constricting deals.

As an artist, it can be difficult to decide what the right path is for your career. The thought of having a record deal is still pretty alluring for a lot of artists, but it’s not always the right path for everyone, and it can vary depending on the stage you’re at in your career.

Here are five signs that you’re not ready for a label:

1. You’re just starting out and don't have any leverage.
If this is the case, you will most likely have to give a lot to get where you're trying to go. If your goal is to retain all ownership of your material and keep all of your profits (however large or small they may be), then a label early on in your career probably isn't right for you.

2. You’re all about full creative control and you aren't ready to allow others into your processes.
Major labels will often want to tweak your image, push your sound into a different direction, change your name, put different band members in your lineup – anything that they believe will help them profit off of your music. Some artists are into receiving assistance with all aspects of their career, and are willing to do whatever it takes to "make it." But others place a really strong value on keeping their creative outlet totally pure. If you're in the latter group, then a label (at least a major label) might not be the best bet for you.

3. You aren't ready to fully treat your art as a business. 1 o f 2

When you sign to a label, your music becomes much more business-centric. You often receive an advance (a loan) and you need to work to recoup all of that money for the label. Everything becomes about the bottom line and how to make more money for the company. If you think you want to be signed to a label, you need to be prepared for your music to be treated like a product.

4. You just want to play music for fun.
That's totally acceptable. Have fun playing your music – just don't sign a record deal if that’s the case. A record deal is mainly a business decision to advance your career as a musician, so you need to be very serious about it. It's not a just a hobby anymore when big money is involved – as mentioned above, it's a business in which a company has to profit off their investment.

5. You’re not ready to leave home.
As record sales have become virtually nonexistent, touring is one of the last bastions of an artist’s career to generate income. After signing a deal, you need to be ready to hit the ground running. This means quitting your full-time job and leaving behind your wives/husbands/significant others, children, friends, pets and all other comforts of home for several months at a time. When signed to a label, you need to be 100% committed to be anywhere at anytime they ask you to be seen and heard. Touring can be a lot of fun, but it's also really hard work. It can take a serious toll on people who aren’t ready to trade in comfortable living for being cramped in a van with the same people for hours on end.

As you continue to grow as a musician and person, how you feel about each of these things may change over time. It’s a good idea to check in with yourself every now and then to reevaluate whether or not you’re ready to take the big step of pursuing label support for your music career.

How I “Usually” Track Female Vocals

This my formula for working with a new/relatively new singer. 

  • If she is a solid half step off on the entire song then you have a correctable problem.
  • Chill out when they first arrive. Don't let them listen to any other work you have done. Just chat and let them talk about themselves. Don't counter their story with one of your own.
  • It is best to not compliment them on their looks.  They are here as a professional musician/artist.  If they are looking for a complimented they will go fishing for one
  • Suggest that they warm up their vocals. I usually have them sing their favorite song. Give them some quick compliments. Don't say they sound like another singer.
  • Salt. Give them a small bowl with plain potato chips and fill them in on why you use them. Just plain old chips will work.  No flavors. They will like the “magic” of it.
  • Let them warm up a bit and use this time to set your gain and other goodies you have in the vocal chain.
  • Record everything. This time can also be spent putting in your markers and such
  • Give them some effects while they are tracking. Singers dig that. I also use some type of channel strip. Compliment them as often as you can on the performance but don't look like a stalker.
  • At this point you have heard how they sing so this is a good time to correct any major issues
  • Record. I do most of my lead vocals using loop recording and again I record everything. Which I comp then I correct the vocals. "Everything" is pitch corrected.

Oh. Compliment them some more 😉

Why Work With A Pro

So why work with a pro?

When the Pros Work They Work With Pros.  The difference between a professional sounding record and something that sounds like it came out of your phone could be as little as $50.00.

Since the DAW became the go to method for recording way to many people, articles and magazines are focusing on how to DIY and really are forgetting what makes a professional a professional. If you are a true aspiring engineer please just skip this read. Proceed with the home studio, keep getting the gear, keep recording bands, keep interning and never stop learning, get that studio you always dreamed of. I wish you nothing but luck. We all started at home so it’s not all bad but for god’s sake take it seriously!! For you other guys please read on.

With the advent of all the low budget recording methods becoming available many people are deciding “Hey I can just make my own album now”. Well this will focus on why NOT to make that next album yourself or in a friends bedroom. Now I know there are some great guys out there that do make their albums at home and can engineer circles around me and their albums come out great but they are the exception. They are the guys that have put in work and learned over the years and took this job very seriously. 99% of the guys that attempt to make those albums end up redoing it or just end up with a mediocre album at best. I can’t tell you how many CDs I have redone over the years from artist who made that mistake.

We all know there are many positives that can come from having a recording set up at home, The Pre Production value alone is worth more than I could ever say. Getting ideas down on the spur of the moment is priceless. I really don’t need to hear about all the great things a home studio brings to the table. In fact I think every artist should have a means to record their ideas and such. Let’s face it, not until the home studio went to a computer based platform did people really try and make their CD’s at home. Maybe some did but I am speaking about the majority. The ADAT started the trend but the DAW took the idea and ran with it. People used to write and pre produce their songs at home and when it was time to record leave it to the guys that do it for a living every day to make their records.

As an engineer now for over 25 years I really get a little agitated when I get that call every other month from an artist that I have recorded in the past or even a new artist and they say “hey I got a little set up at home now and want to make our CD, how do we do this or what tips can you give us ” etc. Here is a tip for you, come back to a professional whether it be me or someone else to make the CD. In the end you will be much happier.

It seems I have been handed more garbage in the past 5 years than ever before. All I hear is “hey can you mix this for us”, or “can you master our CD and make it radio ready, we did it ourselves”. Well my answer is usually NO I cannot. Why? Because your levels are clipping, your recording or master is mixed with way too much compression, there is no headroom, the tracks are not separated, no filtering was used and all the mids are scooped out. There is an air condition, a dog barking or baby crying in the background among a hundred other things. No I cannot make this sound Radio ready. Remember the old attitude “Garbage in Garbage out?” I sure do.

Now don’t get me wrong I hate to turn away work but sometimes the stuff you put out with your name on it can hurt more than it can help the business. I just pass on that stuff and luckily I stay afloat. I am going into my 10th year of business with virtually no advertising. What leaves my studio with our name on it is a direct reflection of us. That should be appreciated by the bands we record. If they sound bad so do we. Sure I am lacking some gear and a half million-dollar console as most smaller studios are but the stuff I do have is great and very high quality gear. Sometimes you have to know when to say No to a project. On another note, please don’t write in and say “you don’t have a big analog console so you aren’t even a real studio”. Please don’t tell me times are changing and just 20 years ago a smaller studio like yours didn’t even exist. I know that already. I know without the advent of the DAW and more cost effective recording mediums I wouldn’t be running a studio myself. This really doesn’t come down to a gear thing so I don’t want to make it sound like that. It comes down to an experience thing.

This business is one of the most undervalued professions I can think of. People think Hey I will buy a DAW and Bam!! I am a recording engineer. I’m going to make and mix a record. I have never heard of a guy buying a wrench and saying “I am now a mechanic” or a guy who buys a light bulb and says, “Now I am an electrician”. Hey I have a hammer now I am a homebuilder. Just like those professions it takes years to develop your craft and turn into a good engineer, mixer, or mastering engineer. No one seems to realize that in today’s world. Does anyone value the guys that have spent years developing their skills and devoted their lives to this field? What happened to the internship and trying to learn the ropes from a real professional? Its called “putting in the work

Now I am not saying for a second that if you want to be an engineer to not get gear and start somewhere, we all had to. I have no issues with that. The bottom line is if you are a music producer, focus on the music and sounds or if you are the rapper focus on improving your skills. In the music world it’s hard enough to do anything and make a living, so try and be the best at what you do. Don’t be the typical “jack of all trades” but an ace of none. How much time can you really be performing and practicing your songs if you are worried about learning proper compression ratios, or learning what frequencies reside where or all the little nuances of your DAW. The ear training for mixing alone takes hundreds of hours. All that time could be refocused on your technique and song writing. I think you will see that while a ton of engineers come from a music background most have decided to not be in a touring group or they say their music is not their number one priority.

Yes I know there are exceptions to the rule. I still make tracks for my artist as well but as a whole my job is an engineer. That is what I focus on and spend countless hours developing. Yes I think my music could be better if I put just as much emphasis on that as I do learning production techniques or mic placement, or just the DAW itself.

Lets delve deeper into why not to DIY. Is your basement really the best place to record? The acoustics alone we could write an entire article on. How well did you refine that room you are tracking in, or the room you are mixing in? Did you analyze it and treat it properly? From a creative standpoint not being fluid on the DAW the stopping, tracking and punching in alone would be enough to stop creativity cold. Do you really like your kids and wife’s coming in while the band is trying to track. How about that dog that keeps barking and the stomping on the ceiling. When professional artist create music most of them like to get in a zone and not have interruptions like the phone going off. Usually this mistake is made one time and then the smart guys demand they go to a studio. The call I usually get from those guys goes something like this “man we tried doing it ourselves but it just didn’t turn out right, we decided to go into a studio this time around”. Smart guys…. but you can be smarter, just skip all of that and save yourself time and money now.

Lets now look at some of the financial issues. Even though cheaper than ever before, you have to spend a few thousand dollars to have even a reasonable recording rig for a home studio. If I were an artist I would ask myself, can this money be better spent? If your music is your life please take that money and get better equipment to perform live. Take some of the cash and buy yourself a decent mic or your DJ something decent. How about some stage clothes. Maybe you should be a buying a PA for better rehearsals. How much merchandise do you have? Maybe you could use more.  You have to get your CDs pressed and the artwork finished.  What about using the money for that?

Even if you have a nice little budget of say 5 to 10 thousand, do you really think you should get a set up worth that much when you will come out mediocre at best without the years of training. Just take a couple hundred and get that Mbox for pre production as we talked about earlier. I think taking that $5000 to a pro studio and letting them cut your record will yield much better results in the end. Besides your music is your life right? Why accept mediocrity on your new CD. The $5k you just spent may cover maybe 2 pieces of gear in a decent studio. Did you really think you were going to get that radio sound quality at home with low dollar converters, pre amps, and mics? Not to mention the many other things as well as the experience of a guy who does it every day. Remember even though the gear matters somewhat you are paying for experience. Ask yourself is your goal to make a living playing music or recording it?

If you are just a hobbyist at home great, have fun but don’t bring it to us and say make it radio ready. How serious do you think your sound will be taken by that A&R guy, Club Promoter or Record Exec, etc when you present them a CD that sounds like trash? They have thousands of CD’s they go through. Don’t you want to stand out with a great recording? Maybe having a great sounding CD will get you the cash you spent at the studio back. Your CD sales will improve, you may get more or better paying shows, or better yet a nice little record deal. Maybe you won’t but it can’t hurt. The same can even be said about they way you present your CD. Does it look pro, or is it a cd-r with a label. Remember the better you look and sound on your CD, the better you look and sound in real life.

I know everyone has money issues in today’s economy but lets face it if you are in a group with 4 or 5 other guys and you cant get a few hundred together from each guy then maybe there are some other issues. Here is a thought, give up those bad habits you have (you know the ones) and invest it in the studio. I know this doesn’t apply to everyone, once again I am just making a comment because I see this everyday. Its bad enough the quality of music, musicians and bands that have gone on a downward spiral since the advent of pro tools with the DAW making bands not really even want to play their instruments “hey can you fix that later” but now they want to record their albums as well. Once again focus on your writing or playing not recording. Please don’t say music is your life when its not.

It is just so frustrating to me getting these calls asking to make garbage sound like a half million dollar recording. It would be nice to get back to a time when artist were artist and engineers were engineers. Don’t be that guy that spends time and money trying to DIY and then realize we just wasted tons of time and cash. I think in the end when it comes down to it and you ask yourself “Can we afford to go to a professional”? The question you need to be asking yourself is “can we afford NOT to”.

Why Pay For Mastering

Mastering is the finishing step in presenting your material with the sonic fidelity of the commercial releases you hear on your favorite CDs and radio stations. Most people confuse “mastering” with “mixing.” They are two entirely different processes. Ask any mix engineer responsible for many of the hit records you’ve listened to and they will tell you that mastering is the necessary final step. All commercially released CDs are mastered. Even some demo projects are mastered. When sending your demos to labels, management or production companies for signing consideration, your music will sound more impressive once mastered.

When mastered, your material will have a cleaner, punchier sound that will sound good on many listening devices we use such as car stereos, home systems, small speaker systems, night clubs, I-pods, etc. Consistent volumes, balanced fade ins/outs, transition spacing between songs are part of the process.

In many cases, mastering can help improve the sound of material that was mixed by a less than experienced engineer. A number of producers/artists have home studios, etc. but lack the necessary equipment or “ears” to achieve the sonic fidelity to which listening audiences have become accustom. This is where mastering can save the day..

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Make sure your mix is exactly the way you want it. I can work with the dynamics of the song but you need to be happy with the mix. There must not be ANY LIMITING on the final 2 track mix but slight compression is fine. I realize that most engineers prefer to mix with some compression on the stereo mix. If you do not know what this is then talk to the engineer that did the work. If he does not know what that is then call us. Your mix should be very very bouncy and it should NOT go into the RED ( above 0db ) at any point. Distortion in the overall mix is Bad.

We can actually master your song

Don’t be fooled by kids with a cool mastering plugin that has a setting for various genres.

We have mastering songs for over 20 years

We have the equipment to get the proper sonic quality so your song can be referred against other top songs on the market.  If the “other” guys are using discount speakers and none commercial equipment you will just get a poor representation of what a bad mastering job will sound like,

We have the ears.  They don’t. It takes years to understand what you are listening for when mastering a song.  If the master is not right then this could eliminate any radio airplay and possibly your record deal.  If a label puts you back into the studio to correct an issue this could cost thousands for the band.

Do they offer a DDP image?

Do they burn a master CD to RedBook standard?

Can they broadcast through FM radio so you can hear what your songs will sound like?

We burn your project to the most expensive CD’s on the market.  They don’t even know what these are.

Can they supply you with ISRC codes?

Do they even know what ISRC codes are and why you need them?

Do they know how to embed ISRC codes?

Do they know the correct language so they can communicate with the manufactures?

Can they do stem mastering? Do they even know what that is?

Do they know who to even setup for stem mastering or have the correct software to complete the task?

Do they understand what has to be done to the master for various delivery formats?

Can they sequence and design the content on a CD or other delivery format?

Do they understand what is needed in the recording/mastering process for a project to be labeled MASTERED for iTunes?

What about transferring to tape?  There has been a resurgence in mastering to this format over the past few years.  Do they know how to make sure the machines heads are aligned and demagnetized properly?  Which format? 1/4 or 1/2 inch?  How about adjusting the bias? Do they even have the ability to print to a machine?

If you are looking for a real mastering engineer we can do the work or find someone that better fits your needs.