Tips for Better Recording

There are MANY recordists and mixers out there with a better understanding or more experience than I in the world of recording. The more I read from the pro’s, the more I realize just how natural many of their gifts are in regard to engineering. So many try and become a studio engineer by purchasing all of the latest and greatest equipment with the idea that they’ll somehow learn how to record through their purchases, or that somehow by osmosis the school of hard knocks will smile kindly on them and grant them a special exemption.

The great ‘leveling of the playing field’ that has happened over the last 20 years with the affordability of recording equipment has indeed sparked a revolution: the revolution of creating a cash cow industry for music equipment manufacturers!

But enough of beating that dead horse. We can all still benefit greatly from learning from the masters of the trade. And rest assured, we ALL DO have to go through the school of hard knocks and make mistakes. Failure is the greatest teacher. Just ask Thomas Edison, who after inventing hundreds of items finally invented one which was successful. So it is that we will eventually learn how to record music well after we record a few hundred songs.

The greatest lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that in order to be a great recordist, I need to understand and learn more about microphones. Specifically, how to set up one mic and use that one mic to capture the subject well. Specifically how to experiment and find just how different the microphone sounds when set up at different angles and distances. Specifically how to record without overloading the microphone. This is lesson one, and the real experienced people out there that are reading this are rolling their eyes and saying what a idiot I am for saying the obvious. But I hope this helps someone.

There is one huge sub-lesson on recording microphones: learn about the recording level going in. There’s plenty already written on this subject, but let me just say one sentence in this regard so you can ‘google’ this: 0dB FS = -18db VU.

The next best lesson I learned, just about basic recording and mixing, is to pay CLOSE attention to gain staging. What I mean by this is amplifying the signal only certain amounts at each stage; not over-driving the signal into the next amp stage. Again, the experienced are groaning at me for being obvious. But I tell you, for those of you reading who didn’t know these two items, your engineering world just woke up.

There are so many other lessons to learn in recording: the uses and tricks of compression, the uses of equalization, the use of effects. What the many jobs of a mastering engineer include. But do yourself a huge favor: concentrate on the first two. I’ve read many an engineer’s notes who have said that the best thing they’ve ever done to a record was to just set up mic’s and ‘get out of the way’ and not try to do anything at all but capture the artist in the best way possible.

Recording and mixing is a serious and a fun science. The pro’s often don’t have the time, nor the incling, to explain these basics to the novice. But without this knowledge, the hobbyist or the learner will remain in the dark and make bad recordings and mixes. Wake up and smell the coffee about the basics!  Learn about microphones, recording techniques of certain microphones, 0 dB FS = -18 dB VU and gain staging of each amplifier in the chain!

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