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The Art of Recording

Today I’m here to talk about recording. Basically what I’d like to talk about is how to get started. So, if you are a seasoned pro, then you don’t need to be reading this column. I currently make a living running my own studio and have been doing so for years. Recording yourself is probably one of the most important things you can do. With today’s digital recording technology, a few pieces of quality gear, and a lot of mixing/mastering experience, you can produce a CD, at home, that is very comparable to something you’d hear professionally done. Also, having the ability to lay down your ideas and write in a studio environment can be a tremendous plus. Let us now get started on the path to getting you making your own CDs and demos.

WHAT GEAR DO I NEED?

First, you need to know what type of recording you want to get into. Analog or digital. There are hundreds of articles on the pros and cons of each. So, if you already don’t know which you want to get into…. do some research, for this isn’t the focus of my column. Personally, I am a huge fan of digital, just because of how powerful digital editing is. It is also a lot cheaper to buy hard drives than analogue tape. To record digitally, the best option is to get computer software like Cubase, Logic, Pro Tools, etc.  These DAW softwares offer powerful features that were only alailable to the most serious pro not too long ago. Here is what you need to get started with your own DAW:

A Computer: Make sure you have at least 2 gig ram, a 500+ gigabyte hard drive, a fast graphics card, and a REALLY fast processor (I recommend a quad core Intel i7 or faster). The more top end hardware you have, the better. Slow computers are not fun when you are trying to record large projects. If you have the cash, then get a totally wicked box! The cool thing is computer technology evolves so fast that each new year, you can almost double your processing power for the same cost. (When I originally wrote this article my requirements were: 512 ram, 1.2 gig single core chip, and 40 gig hard drive :) Things change quickly!)

A Soundcard and I/O Interface: You need a sound card and an interface that has A/D + D/A converters (A=analogue, D = digital). There are many cheap and effective converters with mic preamps (raises the gain of the mic signal, think volume knob) available on the market. For a few hundred $ you can get enough inputs to record an entire drum set. On the pro end, you can spend several thousand $s just on 1 channel of conversion and preamp. If you are getting started I’d suggest getting something like an M-audio octane, or Presonus FP10.

Studio Monitors:If you want to have accurate mixes, you better get some studio monitors. There are many affordable brands on the market like KRK, Mackie, etc. They really let you hear the full frequency spectrum. When I bought my 1st pair many years ago, my mixes have improved 10 times.

Mics or a Direct Recording Preamp: Well since you are a guitar player, you have 2 options. Mic up your amp, or get a direct box like a Line 6 pod and plug right into the board. Micing up your amp usually sounds a ton better (especially if you have something like a good Mesa Boogie amp) than going direct. However, an amp modeler like the POD does give you TONS of options and tones and is really fast to dial in. This can give you a good tone in any situation or genre of music. Most pro studios perfer real amps over a POD. However, micing up guitar amps is an art that can take years to get good at.

Recording Software: Self-explanatory. I’ve always liked Cubase/Nuendo over anything else. Your milage may vary.

LETS GET STARTED

Once you’ve gotten all of your gear together, then your ready to get started. Recording is really a hands on learning sort of experience. I’ve found that you can read all of the books you want, but if you don’t actually put it into practice, then it won’t do you any good. The best teacher is experience. Before you start recording, you should talk to as many people that you can and read as much as you can on it. This way you’ll know what your doing. As I said earlier, nothing beats just turning everything on and figuring out how it all works by yourself. I taught myself how to record without having set foot in a real studio and I work with the full spectrum of bands from local to national. If I can do it, so can you. :) Usually when a band is recorded, it is done in steps. Here is a sample step by step process.

The first thing you are going to do (only if you are using a real drummer) is to lay down a click track that acts a metronome. This way your drummer can play to the click and he/she won’t speed up or slow down during the song. I suggest using a cow bell sound or something similar.

Next you track the drum set / drum machine. Now if you just recorded a real drummer, you will then go into a massive editing phase, where you time edit all of your drum tracks to fix all the drummer’s mistakes. When you record, it is wise to do several takes of the same song and then select the drummer’s most solid performance. When you have a really good performance recorded, you should then start editing. The industry standard these days is the perfect quantization of drums, meaning every hit is perfectly on time. You can edit everything as tight as you want.

After you record the drum tracks, it is usually wise to record the guitar tracks. Remember all those columns on rhythm guitar? Now is where if pays off. If you want to have a really fat sounding guitar, then you will need to double track your rhythm guitar parts. What this basically is is where you record the rhythm guitar part and then rerecord the same part perfectly. If you play both parts extremely accurately, and put one in the left speaker and one in the right speaker, and you will have a monster guitar sound. This occurs because you have 2 of the same thing playing, only due to human error, it is slightly off. This is how you get that guitar sound that just rips people’s faces off! You can even quad track the rhythm, meaning the same part recorded 4 times. 2 in each speaker. Be careful if you do this as the playing must be SUPER TIGHT!

After the guitars and drums are done, I usually like to record bass guitar. This is what really gives you a heavy tone! A nice fat bass tone will thicken up your guitars to the point where it is so heavy that you can almost taste it in your mouth. When recording bass, a good thing to do is go direct into a compressor (look it up if you don’t know what one is) and then into the board. If you compress the bass just right, it will really fatten up the tone.

At this point you can do either guitar solos or vocals, which ever you choose.

Once you actually get everything tracked, you will enter the mixing process. This is where you sit down and balance all of the levels on the tracks, add effects and eq to everything, and mix all of your individual tracks into a single stereo track. This can be the most tedious of all things (other than time editing drum tracks). Sitting in a room with a band arguing over who isn’t loud enough….. well you get the point.

The last process is called mastering. This is where you being in your mixed CD to a mastering engineer and they will maximize your levels, make your CD punchier, and tweak the eq. After your done with mastering, you will be ready to go off and get your disc duplicated. Mastering is usually the most overlooked process, but one of the most important. As a test you should take a track down to an engineer who masters and have them do a demo mastering on your track. Listen to it before and after it has been mastered. You will notice a HUGE difference.

CLOSING

This column was meant to be a quick lesson to start you off on the right foot recording. I encourage you all to learn how to become proficient in it yourselves. It is also nice to be in the studio and know what the engineer and producer are actually doing. I hope you all find the urge to go out and record. It is a great way to advance in your playing. Just record yourself doing a solo sometime and then listen to it. You’d be surprised on how many things you’ll be like “damn I need to get better at that.” The more you record, the better you get. It can be a lot of fun as well as give you 15 migraine headaches in 5 minutes. Here are some links for you all to go check out:

www.joelwanasek.com

Hit me up:


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  1. Great intro article.

    We’re always looking for great ideas like this over at our recording community at http://recordingquestions.com

    Keep up the good work.

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