Monday, April 29, 2013

Recording Engineer Advice: Use a Schedule to get the Most Out of Your Days

If you're a freelance audio recording engineer, chances are you do not have a clock to punch everyday. You are your own boss and you're basically free to pick and choose when you want work. This is one of the advantages to working for yourself, but it could also be a disadvantage that could hurt freelance business.

It's easy to put things off and get to them later or tomorrow, but in this type of business where time can be money, if you're not motivated to get work or find clients you could essentially be losing money.

So how do you make sure you don't find yourself in this situation?
The best thing you can do to stay motivated and on top of your work is to create a schedule.

I create a schedule at night before bed, this helps me get right up in the morning and get right to work. But creating one at the beginning or end of the week, like on Sunday, for the whole week ahead may work even better.

I found that writing one for a whole week doesn't work for me because some days I would accomplish more or less than what was scheduled for the day, and by time the end of the week comes my schedule would be all fouled up. So instead of fixing the schedule everyday, I just write an all new list at the end of each night.

I also found that knowing that I had a schedule to get to every morning would actually get me up a little earlier. The motivation of crossing some things off my list and putting prospects of making some money on the table makes me feel good and motivated.

Without a schedule I may not even bother heading right to work, I may fart around with some T.V., use the internet to search non-audio recording related topics, basically just waste time until something pops in my head that has to be done. You can easily drain away a half of day watching pointless U-Tube videos.

The point is the benefits of not having to punch the clock everyday are great, but if you don't think of your business like a job than you might-as-well make it a hobby and get a 9-to-5 to pay the bills.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Best Way to Record and Mix Drums and Base in to a Song

Many professional will tell you many different ways to go about this. There tips and tricks of all kinds when it comes to what kind of music you are mixing. But through the years I found my self reverting back to one process that I have enjoyed and think that it helps me get the best results in the least amount of time.

First I mix all of my highs or non- base and drum tracks together. Then I mute those and I mix all of the drum tracks, once I am happy with the way the drums are mixed I then bring the rest of the tracks in except for the base and I mix them according to volume and do what ever small frequency changes that are needed. Next I turn off all tracks except the base and drums and mix accordingly.

The last step is to mix them all together. I find at this point, with all of my previous mixing there is not much mixing that has to be done. You should be pretty close to the sound you are looking for without the need to do to much more frequencies changes and what not.

I think this works the best because it's usually the baseline that needs the least amount of work in terms of eq and effects. In-fact, most of the time the only thing I make changes for is the clash between the kick and the base. As long as the volume is where it's supposed to be, I find that the base needs very little work, thus making it easier to work with all of the other tracks first and then smooth in the base.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Guitar Tip: Record Different Microphones From Difference Distances

While attending school at the Recording Institute of Detroit, I found that one of the major focuses was microphone placement. And since getting the perfect sound from a guitar can sometimes be so difficult, instructors often emphasized guitar microphone placement more than other sections of recording.

One of the things we always talked about and practiced was the process of using multiple microphones efficiently at and around the sound source to improve your chances of achieving the perfect sound.

The rule of thumb we were taught was: Why put all your eggs in one basket, meaning why just use one microphone?

If you can take three or more different microphones and set them in different places such as: two up nice-and-close, about 1-5 inches away picking up sound from both sides of the source, another one about 3 to 5 feet away, one in the distance, maybe ten feet maybe further and others placed about the room depending on preference -- you will have a broad line of guitar tracks that can be useful during mix-down.

With this process, when your done recording, you should have enough sound sources that even if a couple of them did not turn out the way you wanted them to, you should still be able to find something that fits your needs. Weather it's just one track you decide on using or you decide to use more than one together with each other, you should be able to avoid the need to go back in the recording room and re-record the track.

This process may also allow you to cut back on plug-ins such as reverb or delay. You can try to mix in some of the room mics to emulate those plug-ins, and lets face it, the less you use your plug-ins the more natural the sound source sounds.

Important Tip: Make sure that each separate track sounds perfect while playing by itself, worry about how they sound playing together later during mix down.

From course-to-verse from song-to-song, the options of having a different texture of sound from the same guitar without the need of leaving the control room to change things around can be extremely convenient for a recording engineer and producer.

Although this tip is pretty amateur, it can still be often forgotten when going through the motions of setting up for a recording. But if you have a guitarist and or a band that's not sure exactly how they want the guitar to sound throughout a track or an album, than this is a great way to give them a couple of track options with one recording section.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Recording Engineering Tip: Protect Your Ears

I remember back when I was a youngster, the thought of things like race cars, a great sounding sound systems, gun shots, air planes, concerts etc. were all awesome and the louder the better. Ear plugs were not an option, listing to music or playing video games at normal listening levels were not an option.

But if you plan on working in music or any type of audio recording than you need to treat your ears like you want them to last for a while. It's bad enough as we get older are bodies get older and get tired, and your ears are no different.

Although you can't stop your ears from getting older you can help them last longer by avoiding unneeded punishment. Knowing your surroundings and using your common since should let you know if something is to loud for your open ears to listen to.

Even though it might seem like the manly thing to do, listen to things with out your ears protected at full volume, but as manly as it may seem, how manly is wearing a hearing aid for the last thrity years of your life.

My grandfather worked in a factory for 30 years, OSHA was not a factor and ear plugs were not required. My whole life my Grandfather has had to wear a hearing aid and respond to every question with, "ha, what, can you repeat yourself."

For each 3 dB (decibels) you increase the sound, you need to cut the time your ears are exposed to those loud sounds in half. Here's a chart to help you figure out if what you expose your ears to is to much.
85 dB 8 hrs
88 dB 4 hrs
91 dB 2 hrs
94 dB 1 hr
97 dB 30 min
100 dB 15 min
103 dB 8 min
106 dB 4 min
109 dB 2 min
111 dB 1 min
114 dB 30 sec
117 dB 15 sec
120 dB 8 sec
123 dB 4 sec
126 dB 2 sec
129 dB 1 sec

A db test is not too expensive and can be bought in many places about the Internet. But again, I would have to say that common since should tell you what is to loud for your ears. If you want to be recording music past the age of 60, then you need to be protecting your ears now. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Three Quick Tips for Excessive Cymbal Noise

Drums are an important part of just about every song, like the guitar and bass, almost every song will have these components. As an audio engineer , one of the biggest problems you will face when recording drums, which you won't have when recording a bass or a guitar, is too much cymbal action and too much high frequency. Basically all this means is the sound of the cymbal hit is just too loud and last longer than what is wanted or needed for the action.

Since there is no volume knob for a cymbal and asking the drummer to take it easier on the cymbals is probably not going to be an option, here are three things as an engineer you can try to fix this problem.

Try a De-esser Plug-in. Yes, in most cases this is supposed to be used for a vocal, but I haven't seen that written in stone anywhere. This plug-in might just take away that high frequency and on-going ringing that you need to tame down the unwanted sound without affecting the initial sound too much.

Use a Compressor. Using a compressor plug-in might help keep some of those tones in check. A 10:1 ratio with a threshold of -10 might give you some amazing results. In fact, a slight compression after the De-esser program might really give you a sound that sounds great without using a whole lot of EQ.
Remove the Overhead Mics. If your drummer is hitting the cymbals so hard that the sound is too over powering, it might be time to rethink your microphone set-up. For most drum mic set-ups, you will have a left and right overhead mic. But if your drummer is hitting the cymbals hard enough to ditch the overhead mics, you should do just that. If this is the case, you can possibly just get away with using the individual mics that you are using to pic up the other components, or if you still need a good overall sound from your drum kit, you can try setting up a room mic to capture the drum kit at a whole.

I know as an engineer myself, it's easy to say I don't completely like the way those cymbals sound but I will fix the problem later during mix down. This is a big no-no. What happens if you record five or six songs with the set-up the way it is, later the band packs up and goes home and then when you get ready to mix these songs, you find out that the cymbals just are not fixable without re-recording the drum tracks again, how do you explain yourself? Remember, one of the most important rules in recoding is doing it right the first time.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Launching a Recording Engineer Career

Rocky Starts
Becoming a recording engineer in the music industry is not as easy as some people may hope. There are very few salary based jobs out there for a recording engineer. The only real way to break into the industry of recording music is to become a freelance audio engineer. The hardest part about being a freelance audio engineer is getting your first couple of clients and getting them to come back. It's not uncommon for someone to spend 1 to 5 years in search of a steady clientele that can bring in some source of steady income that can put food on the table, pay the bills, pay for health insurance and pay for any equipment you need to keep your business up and running.

Finding Clients
The reason why the first couple of steady clients are so hard to find is because it is hard to get someone to shell out some hard-earned cash for your recording services when they have no idea what kind of work you will do for them. Even with an education in the recording arts field, you will find that it does not mean very much. It may relieve some worries of potential clients but not enough to make a big difference. In fact, most of the real successful recording engineers never even attended school. Of course this does not mean that someone should skip out on getting educated before trying to jump-start a career in the recording arts field. If you need the education and even if you don't, if you can afford it, it can't hurt.

Another reason why it is hard to find those first couple of good clients to start-up a steady clientele is that even a somewhat part-time established band or an artist probably already has a recording engineer and a studio that they use on a regular basis. Even if they are not completely satisfied with their current recording situation, it would still be hard to convince someone, who as a beginner, you could do a better job. If a potential client knows you're just starting out as a beginner, they would be taking a huge risk that your recording services could still be extremely amateur. If your recording services were not up to quality standards then (in theory) a band or an artist would still have to pay you, but they would also have to go back to their old recording services and then pay them to either fix what you've done or even have the whole project rerecorded, which is a waste of time, money and also a huge hassle.

Don't Forget the Contract
Here's a little hint! Make sure a contract is signed before work begins. If you were wondering, this is how you will guarantee that you get paid. Like with anything, even if your skills are not yet professional and you're still in the learning process, if you did your best and put the time into it, you will still want to get paid. And with a contract you will. It's up to the client to ask and understand about your credentials and up to you to do the same with your client. If both parties tell the truth, both parties will go into the project with the right expectation.Determination, Networking and Motivation
If you feel like you have the skills and determination to take on this career and make it work for you, then by all means you should follow what you know is best for yourself. Determination, networking and staying motivated when work is not coming in so steadily are the three tools you really need to get a career lunched and keep it going. The most important tool a person needs to utilize is networking. Network with people who have the same ambitions of making it in the music industry as you do. You can have a thousand friends, but if the only thing they know about the music industry is how to pop a in CD of their favorite band or artist and hit play, they will not help you very much when trying to achieve your goal. Anyone you can get to know who plays, records, produces or promotes music are good people to become friends with and stay friends with. You never know when an opportunity not directed to you or for you might come along and one of your friends is in the right place at the right time but can't do the job but can vouch for you and say, "Hey, I have a good friend that may be able to help you out," and sometimes that's all it takes.

Another option of networking you can utilize is advertising. I personally finished school at the Recording Institute of Detroit, and I bought some advertising to see what kind of potential clientele would come my way. Unfortunately, I don't have much good to say about this process. I advertised with networking websites, fliers and business cards, the little response I did get were usually from somewhat corky individuals with completely unrealistic expectations. In fact, I never picked up one of my clients from advertising. I'm not saying that someone else might not find success in this process, but this is just my personal experience. Depending on your location and how much effort you put into advertising, someone else might find different success than I did.

When I finished school for recording engineering in Michigan, I went on a search for an internship. I contacted over 100 studios about an internship and only received a couple of responses back. The responses I received all pretty much had the same answer. The answers were, they do not use interns at all or some responses were they did not use unsolicited interns. Solicited internships would mean you would have to know someone or pay someone or a company to get you one. Now, there is a possibility that other states have better intern opportunities. But for me I never even checked out-of-state because I did not have the money to relocate to another state for an unpaid internship. I was, however, given advice from two different studio owners/engineers that graciously took some time out of their day to talk to me. Both of their advice was pretty much the same and pretty simple, "In a state like this where almost all musical recording engineers are freelancers, forget the internships and just get out there and get started. An internship would just be wasting a lot of time."

Last Words of Wisdom
I should note that if you are looking for those salary jobs, you will increase your chances dramatically if you were willing to move to places where music is extremely huge, such as New York, California, Nashville Las Vegas etc.