Monday, October 6, 2014

Building an Affordable Home Recording Studio

More and more home studios are popping up all over the place. The reason why is obvious - technology is getting better and better, the equipment keeps getting smaller and smaller, easier to use and much more affordable. With the convenience of Digital Audio Workstations ( DAW) such as Pro Tools, Cubase, Fruity Loops etc., and small interfaces like M-Audio's Fast Track Pro, it is extremely budget feasible and space efficient for a solo artist or a small band that does not need a lot of space or mic/inst inputs and out puts to record at home.

Years ago struggling artists had to shell out more cash than they had to get a professional sounding recording done. Before websites like YouTube and social networking sites like Tumblr and Facebook, sometimes the music recorded in a studio might not even make a lot of progress for the band, which meant a lot of money was wasted. But today if you can put together an affordable home studio that is capable of recording great music, you can make as many tracks as you want with the only repercussion being your time. If you don't like a track, scratch it, move on - you are not paying for the time, so this is a non-issue. When you're not paying by the hour, you don't have to stop recording when those hours that you are paying for are up. There's nothing like leaving the studio knowing that you have to schedule and pay for more time because you just could not finish those last couple of tracks. With a home recording studio, the time that you have is all the spare time you want to devote to your recordings.

Saving Money on Your Equipment
First, before you go out and spend more money than you need, step back and ask yourself what it is that you're really going to need and what it is you are really going to use. A lot of times you might get caught up in the moment, and you might think the newest, coolest gear will help you make the best music possible.

This is so not true, getting caught up in the moment can cause you to have a lot of equipment that you paid for but never end up using. Just because it's the newest technology out there and received great reviews, it doesn't mean that it's right for you or your project. I've been there before and bought equipment that I never ended up using. This is very frustrating because you know the minute you buy a product that you don't end up using, when you do decide to sell it you will not get the same amount of money that you bought it for, used or not.

The next thing you need to ask yourself is do you need to buy brand new? For instance, say you're looking for a mixer, find one that is around five years old with the amount of outputs and inputs that you need. If it's in good shape, you may be able to buy it for a great price. As long as it's compatible with your computer and your DAW software, you might end up with a great 16 track or so mixer that will fit your needs perfectly. Do not worry if the mixer lacks some of the functions and goodies that the brand new ones have, because if you have an up-to-date DAW software, all the goodies you will need will be in your computer software plug-ins, like compression, EQ, delay, and automation.

The same goes with microphones, headphones and studio monitors, if taking care of properly these tools can work just as good as the day they were bought new and still deliver the quality that you need for a great sounding recording. I also suggest getting a plain-jane MIDI keyboard. You can get a good MIDI keyboard for about $100-$150 with no sound bank. You can then use your software to assign sounds like the grand piano, strings, drums, percussion and more.

Another thing I suggest doing to save money is make your own baffles, sound absorbers, acoustic walls or whatever you want to call them. Obviously, you can't record a band all in one room at the same time without baffles because of the way the sounds will bounce off the walls. This will cause major leakage from other instruments into other microphones that are not designated for that source. Since sound absorbers get expensive, getting creative and getting hands-on can save you a lot of money. You should try using empty egg cartons, styrofoam or used carpet to save money. If it's something that will absorb sound, get out the drawing board and spend some time and fabricate your own. Hint: making mobile baffles are the key because in the long run you might want to change the position of your instruments and where you play them. It's possible you might rent your studio out to other bands. Some bands may have a lot of instruments and some bands may not. Being able to move your baffles around will leave you with many different options.


Purchasing Microphones
Here are the three different kinds of microphones you will come across:

Ribbon: Great sound and response, but very delicate, this type of mic would be perfect for hi-hats, but would not withstand a kick drum or a bass guitar or any other heavy hitting source of sound. This microphone can also break very easily from a fall that is higher than 3 to 4 feet.

Condenser: A good all-around mic, great for vocals, great for using for a room mic and just about anything else that you want.

Dynamic: A rugged mic, good for kick drums, toms and bass guitars. Also, a mic that will last you a long time, this mic could take numerous falls and many beatings and still work religiously.

You also need to know microphone patterns:
  • Cardioid
  • Hyper Cardioid
  • Omni
  • Bi-Directional

Each pattern picks up sound on the microphone in one place but rejects it in another - remember to always point the rejection of the microphone toward the sound source you do not want to pick up. Each microphone diagram pattern can be found on the box and or in the owners manual.

Recording and Mixing
Now that you have some knowledge, possible some equipment, its time to have some fun. The first and biggest rule in recording is to know your equipment. If you're not going to take the time to utilize all of it's functions than whats the point of having it.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when recording is setting up their microphones. Always make sure you have the best possible sound before you start recording. A lot of times people will make the mistake of saying it could be better, but we will fix it during mix down, this is not the best way. The more you have to use your plug-ins at mix down, the more you take away from the natural sound. It may take you some time adjusting microphones, but in the long run you will be much happier than you would be if you have to fight with all your plug-ins to find that perfect sound.

Just remember one thing: no rules for recording are set in stone. Use your ears, be creative when placing microphones and try different methods until you get the sound you want to hear.

When you get started, make sure the level of each input signal is as close to zero as possible without clipping/overloading and then record some tracks. When you're done recording, cut each track down to length and separate them into individual files and normalize the wave forms. Once that is done you want to mix them to your likely by using the automation, panning, compression, EQ, delay and so on. Being creative is a great gift, but you don't want to over do it with your effects and plug-ins for it will make a track sound artificial.

When you are finished and you like what you hear, take the tracks and mix them down to a left and right stereo track. Whatever program you are using will have a section in the manual on how to do this particular step. Now your project is ready to be mastered.

A lot of people get scared when they hear the word mastering, and to tell you the truth, you should be. This may be a spot where you would like to go to a professional and have it done properly, but if you feel bold enough to take on the grueling task, I will help you out.

First and foremost, make sure your mix is exactly the way you want it. The process of mastering only deals with the left/right channel (stereo track). So if your guitar is overpowering the vocals or there are other problems that should have been fixed during mix down, there is not much that can be done to fix this in mastering.

Unfortunately, you will have to spend some money on a mastering program to do this step properly. There are many different types, but in my opinion, the best program for the price and most user-friendly would be the IZTOP software. You can get this program just about anywhere where music software is sold, and you can use it as a plug-in for most all DAW software programs making it even more convenient. Also, programs like Wavelab and Sound Forge are great programs you might want to look into purchasing for the analyzing of your wave forms.

Next you need to do some research on the three most common methods of mastering:

1. Multi-Band Compression

2. Parallel Compression

3. General Compression and Brick Wall.

Before you get into EQ and compression, think of the order you wish to do this process. You can definitely EQ first, but just remember when you compress, you could be compressing the very parameters that you just equalized. Just make sure that you plan to make one final EQ after compression.

Once you decide on a mastering program, you have to time some time to get used to it. I strongly suggest getting familiar with the spectrum analyzer, the spectrum analyzer will help you get a better sense of what ranges might still need a little EQ. Maybe your lows are pounding a little too heavy and your mid-range is running a little too soft. This problem may not be heard right away, but the Spectrum will help you see it by showing the problem on a graph.

Also when mastering, try to get your average RMS level around -10. If it peaks a little over -10, you should be alright as long as the average is where it should be.

Remember mastering consists of very little changes and the better you do on the mixing process of the project the easier the mastering process will be.

My Last Words
This is just a starting point and your first go at it won't be perfect – in fact, you will never be perfect. You will always learn new techniques and processes that work better for you.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Putting Together a Demo for Your Break Into The Music Industry

As a band or as a solo artist, eventually you have to start thinking about making a demo CD for A&R reps, producers, production companies, and record labels to help market, fund, and traffic your music. Getting someone in the music industry to take the time to listen to your demo is not an easy task. Most demos are tossed in the garbage before there are opened and if they are listened to, even if you only put three songs on the CD, most people in the music industry won't even bother listening to the whole thing. Don't take it personally; it's the music industry.

But, if you do have something special and you are ready to put together a demo CD in the attempt to get the attention of the music industry, there are somethings you need to know to be successful in this venture.

Put Together a Couple of Great Tracks: 
First you have to take some time and decide which songs are your best songs that will grab the attention of someone that might want to invest some time in you. Three to five songs is all you really need. And to improve your chances of having more then one song listened to you should set your demo CD up like this: take 30 seconds of each song and put those clips as your first three to five tracks, and then create another three to five tracks of the same songs at their original lengths and put them at the end of the CD. This will help when someone important listens to the CD, they will hear just a little preview of each song and they can quickly move on to the next one. When and if they do hear something they like, they can go to the track that contains the whole length of the song for more at their own leisure.

When putting together this CD, make sure that your artist name or the bands name is on the cover, each member of the bands name and responsibilities are labeled properly and each track is labeled properly.

Press Kit:
The ideal of a press kit is to essentially tell whoever picks up your CD to listen to it, who you and or your band are, what you accomplishments are, where you have performed, and any proof of a local, Internet, national and international fan base that you have acquired throughout time under the bands or artist name.

You may also want to have some live performances recorded at a venue you frequent or in the studio where you record. Yes, it would make more of impact to have a live performance at a venue, but you can still do some really cool stuff in a studio with a camera.

In this press kit you also want to include a bio, make sure to include what are the ambitions and intent of your and or your band.

Make Contact:
Take some time and network with people who are involved in the music industry; ask questions and make connections. The ideal here is to find places you can send your demo CD to that is worth your while. My first demo CD I sent out, I made the mistake of sending it out to every place that was or maybe wasn't excepting demos, and to this day I wonder just how many demos I sent out that never made it out of the package before finding its way to the trash can. I'm going to assume out of probably 150 demos I sent out, only about 2 percent of them made it into a CD player, that's a lot of wasted time.

The best way to avoid wasting your time sending out demos to places or people that won't listen is to make your music solicited. Sounds tough right? It's not, a lot of bigger record companies do not except non-solicited music, but all you have to do is talk to someone and get them to agree to listen to your music, and then you can send it to the address of which they give you and label it "Attention: corresponding name" and now you're solicited. This will help you and the company or person you send it to. A three minute phone call will give you an exact address to send your demo to, so it won't end up in the wrong hands and then tossed in the garbage. And if they are not excepting demos, just save yourself some time and energy by not sending it somewhere for no reason.

Get Some Representation:
Let's say you have exhausted all of your connections and the Internet is a well ran dry of possibilities. You can always look to hire professionals to help you get your music in the hands of the right people. Yes, it can be expensive, yes it can seem like they're doing nothing more than what you can do, but the difference is that they probably have connections that you would never be able to get your hands on, that's their job. The question you have to ask yourself or your band is, will it be worth the money? There will be a risk, let's face it, no one wants to think that they aren't good enough and no one should have to. But in this case, if you or your band still needs more practice and more experience, you should wait on spending the money on professional help until you and or your band can utilize it in the most efficient way.

You have to look at like this, if you are paying someone to help you and they know that your not ready for this type of move yet, that person you'll paying will not tell you because they want your money. Even worse, they will not give you or your band the time and the effort you are paying for, basically, because it won't be in their best interest for their career to promote your music to other professionals when they know it's not ready to be promoted.

But if you feel you are ready and you have an awesome press kit, bio and demo, and you're ready for the big boys but your connection just aren't powerful enough to get your music noticed, this could be money well spent.

Keep in Touch:
Let's say you have made some contacts and you have some people who are willing to give your music a listen. There is nothing wrong with a follow-up phone call. Let's say you sent your music and the person or company has received it but has not taken the time to listen to it yet. This phone call could light the fire under someone to open the CD and give it some time, especially if you come off as someone who might just call ever week until someone does listen to it. You may also help yourself by calling if someone has listened to the CD and is on the fence about it. A phone call could show them the ambition that they want to see from an artist and might sway them in the right direction about what they want to do about the situation in general.

A Couple Last Things You Can Do:
This is not a must, but it will help you look more professional: Get your music copyrighted. This won't only make you look more professional but will also protect your music when your sending it out to different places.

You can also help yourself and your band by using art work in the form of a label or a symbol that can be recognizable with the band or you as an artist. Again, this is not a must, but anything that can help market your name is just one more thing to add to your press kit and can help your chances of success.

One last thing that should be noted, this is a process, making it big overnight will be like hitting the lotto. So unless you're feeling that lucky, get ready for the long hall.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Studio Time: Knowing When it's Time to Take a Break

Lock and load, off to the studio where go. Yes, it's a project and depending on how big your band is and how much the band is planing to record, it could be a half a day, a whole day or even a couple day event.

Since in most cases you will be paying for your studio time, you want to utilize it in the most efficient way as possible. But the key words there is MOST EFFICIENT. A huge mistake that is often made in the studio is not knowing when to take a break or call quits for the day altogether.

It's common to want to keep going and get as much music recorded as possible no matter how tired and worn out you or you band is getting. But if you force yourself to keep recording when you are at this point of tiredness then the only thing you might be doing is recording it now, just to have to go back and record it again.

That's right, pushing yourself can result in the performance as a whole suffering, and after a good nights rest you might listen to it the next day and be very displeased with what you hear. Like with every part of are body our ears get tired, and no mater how long you keep playing they won't repair back to normal until they have had some rest. 

It's just like the reason why in sports you have a second and third spring to let there main players rest. When the main players get tired they unable to play at a optimal level until they had some time to relax and rejuvenate. You need treat your ears, vocals, fingers, arms and the rest of your body the same way, you need time to rejuvenate if you want to hear something spectacular on play back.

It may suck taking a break or quitting until the next day, but what is the point of recording if you are just going to have to record it again.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

How to Use Your Outboard Processor with Pro Tools

There's a trend for audio interfaces to include insert points on the inputs, greatly simplifying the use of line-level processors when recording mic or instrument-level signals. You'll probably need a TRS-to-dual-TS insert cable to accomplish this because invariably the insert will be sent and returned on a single TRS jack. Simply patch the interface's insert to the in and out of the processor, and the processor becomes part of the recording chain. Remember that anytime you involve a hardware processor with your DAW session, you must process and bounce in real time, even when using an external plug-in processor. 

If you're lucky enough to have an arsenal of outboard mic pres, simply route the output of the pre into a compressor or EQ, etc., and then route the output of the processor to the input of your audio interface. The signal will be compressed or EQ'ed before it's recorded. You now have a reason to keep some of your old hardware around!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Downfall of Recording Music When Exhausted

Lock and Load, It's Off to the Studio We Go

Yes, it's a project, and depending on how big your band is and how much the band is planing to record, it could take a half-a-day, a whole day, or even a couple of days to get what you want recorded.

Since in most cases you will be paying for your studio time, you want to utilize it in the most efficient way as possible, but the key words there are MOST EFFICIENT. A huge mistake that is often made in the studio is not knowing when to take a break or call it quits for the day.

It's common to want to keep going and get as much music recorded as possible, no matter how tired and worn out you or your band is getting. But, if you force yourself to keep recording when you are at this point of tiredness, then the only thing you might be doing is recording it now, just to have to go back and re-record it again.

Pushing yourself can result in the performance as a whole suffering, and after a good nights rest you might listen to what you recorded the next day and be very displeased with what you hear. You might even listen to the last couple of performances you squeezed out at the end of the day while you were tired and think to yourself -- that sounds great. But, when you come back the next morning and listen to those same performances, you might notice that they are off-beat or off-key. The reason for that is not only does your performance suffer , but so does your ability to hear problems during play-back while you're tired.

It's just like in sports, the reason why you have a second and third string, is you need to let the main players rest. When the main players get tired, they are unable to play at an optimal level until they've had some time to relax and rejuvenate. You need to treat your ears, vocals, fingers, arms and the rest of your body the same way. Your best performances will come when you are playing or mixing at an optimal level, and that can only happen when your well rested and focused.

It may suck taking a break or quitting until the next day, but what is the point of recording if you are just going to have to re-record it again.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Three Reasons Music Recording Engineers are Having a Hard Time Finding Work

Having a hard time finding work in the Music Industry as a recording engineer?

There is three big reasons why - the economy, technology and the Internet. These three factors have played a huge part in the loss of work for engineers, and here is why.

The Economy

Yes, a lot of people may think that the economy would not affect the music industry as much as it does, but in some cases it may be effected by the economy even more than most industries.

The music industry relies on people having extra money, and when times are tough, people don't buy CD's or go to concerts; a band that spends $4000.00 a year to have their CD recorded, if they can't afford it anymore than the engineers, producers and studios suffer.

As long as the economy is not doing good or even when it bounces back, if it's still at an unstable state or at least in a rescission state, the cycle will continue and it will be hard to find people who are willing to record their band or their self to make a CD that might only sell a few hundred or even a few thousand copies.

The economy also affects record labels and production companies as well. Record companies and productions companies are the financial backing to a lot of work that comes available to studios and engineers. They can pay for studio time that an artist or band may not be able to afford, but if sales down, then they will be restricted to how much funds they can use to promote a talent.


Technology is great for the D.I.Y. (do it yourself) people, but for a recording engineer it makes trying to get work very hard. Technology is making it capable to have a small home studio with big professional results at an extremely affordable price.

A studio that could have been put together 15 years ago for about $50,000.00, can now be put together in someone's garage or basement for just about $5,000 dollars, and believe or not, it can sound just as good.
Even worse for the engineer, if you're just a solo musician or a really small band, it can take even less money and even less space. Hand held recorders, computer software, compact MIDI keyboards, MP3's, flash drives etc. are just some of the products playing a part in taking the need of an educated, experienced engineer out of the equation.

The Internet (Information World)

Here is the third and final nail in the coffin for the independent recording engineer. If you have access to all of the equipment mentioned above and more, and want to learn how to use it, the internet has unlimited resources to learn from. Although, there are some things you just can't pick up from reading or watching videos - if you stick with your hobby long enough, you might just be able to be just as good as a professional without the need for schooling or an internship.

Adjust Your Game Plan
Just think about some of these factors when you go out looking for work. Understand, it might not be you or your talent that hurts your chances of getting work, but it could be that the Music Industry is changing and recording engineers are suffering from it. My suggestion to everyone is to see how the industry is changing and change with it. Find out where and how other engineers are making their money in the industry and adjust your game plan.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Recording a Great Album: The Golden Rules 31 - 37 of 37

Ready Mix

31. Listen in the studio to CD's you're used to hearing on your home stereo to get an ideal of how the studio's system sounds.

32. If mixing somewhere other than the recording studio you recording in, try and make sure you use the same type of speakers and set-up. If you don't, the mix will sound completely different.

33. Once you have selected an engineer (or a producer) to mix your recording, have them do the first mix. Their ears are better trained than yours. Try to keep an open mind and try to learn from the person you're paying.

34. Think about the songs as a whole and don't signal out instruments, otherwise everyone will want their instrument louder in the mix.

35. Determine a band spokesperson ahead of time. An engineer getting five different opinions on how to mix will grow tired and might cause him/her to rush through the job.

36. Decide which format you want the finished mixes to be on: high resolution .wav or .aiff files on CD-R, DVD-R, or flash drive are the preffered formast, however an audio CD or DAT are viable options as well.

37. Budget and account for unforeseen delays.