Online Recording Studio Options

By Elad Fish

The World of Drum Recording

Many people today, especially in home studios where you often have only two inputs to record at once, record their songs one track at a time.

Most people starting a home studio can easily acquire the basic engineering skills needed to record vocals, guitars, keyboards and bass. Recording an acoustic drum set on the other hand is perhaps the biggest challenge a recording engineer has to face when recording a single instrument – mainly because drums aren’t really a single instrument.

Especially in Rock, each drum will often require its own microphone in order to capture its full depth and “punch” quality so highly desired in hard-hitting rock anthems.

A multi-channel recording system, lots of expensive microphones, acoustic room treatment and knowing where to place microphones and how to get the best out of the equipment make recording drums a highly expensive and complex endeavor.

If one decides to record drums at a studio, they will find themselves paying through the nose for a recording engineer and a professional drummer. Bands often don’t have the budget to pay for hours of studio time required for their drummer to nail a decent take.

Even if the drummer is well versed in the songs when playing gigs, recording in the studio is different in many ways and requires its own experience.

Online drum recording services such as DrumsForYou.com provide a refreshing alternative. Maintaining a studio dedicated to the sole purpose of recording drums, online drum recording provides a simple and quick method of getting a solid drum track.

For those venturing into a studio for the first time, it can be very intimidating not knowing how big the hole in your pocket will be at the end of the day. In online recording studios, a high volume of customers keeping the studio busy recording drums daily allows the service to offer a fixed price rather than charge by the hour.

There is no need to collaborate a schedule of meetings with musicians and producers. As soon as one track is finished there is no problem in getting on to the next one.

How Does It Work?

You may ask yourself, how can someone record drums the way I want them without me there to play along, guide and explain what I need?

The answer is – free preview.

This feature is made practical thanks to the special traits inherent in an online recording service.

The entire process will usually begin with the user filling out a form specifying parameters such as how they’d like their drums played, at what sample rate they need the track to be recorded and a choice from several snare drums to play.

Then the customer is asked to send an mp3 file with a sketch of their track without drums on the left side and a matching click track on the right.

The service is then obliged within a certain amount of time to send a preview mix of the drum track over the song. If the customer for some reason doesn’t like what they hear, they can ask for changes or scrap the track without paying. If they do like what they hear, upon payment they may choose between online or CD delivery of the full separate tracks as well as a suggested stereo mix.

With this feature, you have nothing to lose by trying. You know exactly how much you’ll have to pay, you’ll know exactly when you’ll get it and you’ll know exactly what you’re paying for before you need to make your decision. In a studio, being charged by the hour, you take a lot of risks, because you pay for time spent regardless of the result.

The experience and versatility attained by drummers who record parts for songs every day also means they’ll probably nail the track the first time. Most people aren’t really that picky about having their drums played a certain way and will often trust the drummer’s judgment to play what they believe fits best with the sketch provided by the customer.

Who May Benefit from Online Recording?

This unique service can be very useful for budding musicians and bands struggling on their own and professional musical producers alike.

Producers will appreciate the speed and professional quality delivered by this service. Because it’s so quick, they effectively won’t lose time by trying the service, so their options remain open to go the traditional way if needed.

Thanks to the ever advancing computer industry, home studios have become very commonplace these days. They are relatively cheap, easy to build and maintain.

Therefore, many budding musicians already have the tools they need to record their sketch and use this service. Until recently, they’ve had to compromise the live feel of their recordings by using drum loops and samples. Online drum recording services finally allow them to mend what has been until now a consistently weak link in their chain.

Finding talented musicians dedicated to one’s cause is also nothing to be sneezed at. Having a demo for your songs that sounds good enough to be on a record can help your wanted-ads on the internet stand out from the crowd. You may find yourself attracting more people to work with you in two weeks than you managed to do in two years.

Not Just Drums

It doesn’t stop at drums either. DrumsForYou.com, despite its name, provides services for recording bass, guitars and keyboards as well as drums. Granted that equipment becomes less of an issue when recording these instruments, the expertise of a professional player combined with the speed and no-risk policy of online recording makes these services very attractive.

Musicians trying to produce a good track on their own will probably sing their own track, or have a singer, and play one instrument that they know well. Yet many guitar players like to try playing their own bass, only to find it doesn’t sit as tight with the bass drum as they’d like. They would have to choose between keeping their part or take their chances hiring a musician. With online recording, you just order a bass track preview and chances are you’ll have the problem solved.

Indeed, online recording services could very well be the shape of things to come in how music is produced. As the infrastructure of the internet expands and advances globally, online recording services will also advance.

For example, it will be possible to hear a recording session online, give comments and even play together in real time from anywhere in the world with low latency. Soon after that you will also be able to see each other. Musicians will effectively be able to rehearse, record and even perform online.

The Bottom Line

Sitting in a fully equipped studio with experienced personnel, including a producer, recording engineer and professional drummer obviously has its advantages. At the end of the day, however, most people look for bang-for-buck solutions – amateurs and professionals alike.

Using free preview to solve most of the problems that could arise from not being face to face with the client, online recording services provide a viable solution that fits the bill for all but those who are not willing to compromise on having their own musician play the part note for note.

I highly recommend paying a visit to DrumsForYou.com and taking a venture into online recording. After you do, you may find yourself wondering how you got along without it.

Author: Elad Fish

Music Production and Mixing Tips & Tricks

By Ian Waugh

What makes a pro recording pro? What is the “sound” that the pros get and how can you make your recordings sound more professional?

The simple answer is – there’s no simple answer. But with careful listening and a little experience you can create excellent results with modest equipment.

Good mixing starts ear

The first and most important item of equipment is – who knows? Anyone? It’s your ears! Sorry to tell you this, but listening to ten hours of Rave at 110dB will do nothing for them and you might as well give your mix to a turtle as try to mix with misused ears.

Listen to commercial recordings of mixes you like, analyse them, listen for the effects and get to know what constitutes the sort of sound you’re after.

Mixing secrets

There’s no hidden secret to getting a good sound, but if we had to sum up the secret of mixing in two words it would be this – EQ and compression. Okay that’s three words.

These are probably the two most important tools used by professional producers. However, like any tools, if you don’t know how to use them you’ll be carving Habitat tables instead of Chippendale chairs.

That’s where your ears and experience come in. Here we have assembled some production ideas, suggestions, tips and tricks but they can only be guidelines and need to be adapted to suit your material. There are no presets you can switch in to make a bad recording sound good. And if your original material has been poorly recorded not even Abbey Road could salvage your mix. But follow these suggestions and see how much your mixes improve.

Get the level right

You can’t push the levels when recording digitally as you can when recording to tape but you still want to get as much signal into the system as possible. This means watching the levels very carefully for clipping, and recording at an even and constant level.

Some recording software lets you monitor and set the input level from within. Some expect you to use the soundcard’s mixer while others have no facility for internally adjusting the input level and expect you to set this at source.

Monitors

Your ears are only as good as the monitors they listen to. DO NOT expect to produce a good, pro mix on tiny computer speakers. It may sound fine on a computer system, but try it on a hi-fi, in a disco and through a car stereo.

Oddly enough, you don’t necessarily need the most expensive Mic. Many top artists use what some might call “average” Mics because they work well and get the job done. You can spend a wad on a large diaphragm capacitor Mic (yes, they’re good for vocals) if you have the lolly but check out dynamic Mics which are much more affordable and can be turned to several tasks.

Mixing MIDI and audio

One of the great things about computer-based recording is that the parts can so easily be changed, edited and processed. It’s also so easy to combine MIDI and audio tracks and many musicians use a combination of sample loops, MIDI parts and audio recording.

Audio recordings are generally guitar and acoustic instruments such as the sax and vocals. Incidentally, the best way to record guitars is by sticking a Mic in front of its speakers. You can DI them and process them later and this may be cleaner but for a natural guitar sound a Mic’ed amp is hard to beat.

It’s not necessary to record drums live and, in fact, it’s difficult to do and retain a modern sound. You can buy off-the-shelf MIDI drum riffs and audio drum loops, or program your own. The quality of the gear which makes drum noises these days is such that anyone with a good riff can sound like a pro.

Mixing MIDI

As MIDI and audio parts appear on the same screen in modern sequencers, it’s very easy to arrange them into a song. However, when you come to mix everything down there’s another consideration. If you are recording to DAT you can simply route the audio and MIDI outputs through a mixer and into the DAT machine.

However, if you want to create a CD you must first convert the MIDI parts to audio data. The entire song can then be mixed to hard disk and burned to CD. Converting MIDI to audio can have another benefit and that’s the ability to process the MIDI tracks using digital effects.

Effects

There are three positions for effects known as Master, Send and Insert. Use the Master for effects you want to apply to the entire mix. These will often be EQ, compression and reverb.

Although giving each channel its own Insert effects is kinda neat, each one uses a corresponding amount of CPU power. So if your computer is struggling and if you’re using the same effect on more than one channel, make the effect a Send effect and route those channels to it.

Many pieces of software let you apply an effect Pre or Post fader. With Post fader, the amount of sound sent to the effect is controlled by the fader. With Pre fader, the total volume level of the signal is sent. Post fader is the usual default and the one you’ll use the most.

EQ

EQ is the most popular and the most over-used effect. Yes, it can be used to try to “fix a mix” but you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear as me Gran used to say and what she didn’t know about mixing could be written in the margin of the book of honest politicians.

But before you start messing with EQ – or any other effect for that matter – make sure you have a decent set of speakers. Have we said that already? Oh, must be important, then.

There are plug-in effects such as MaxxBass which can psychoacoustically enhance the bass frequencies to make it sound better on smaller speakers. However, this is by no means the same as getting a good bass sound in the first place by observing good recording principles.

EQ can enhance a mix to add gloss, fairy dust, shimmer, sheen, a sweetener or whatever you want to call it to the final production. It can be done with enhancers and spectralisers, too, although these tend to mess with the harmonics which some producers don’t like. However, don’t dismiss them out of hand.

General EQ lore says that you should cut rather than boost. If a sound is top-heavy, the temptation is to boost the mid and bass ranges. But then what usually happens is you start boosting the upper range to compensate and you simply end up boosting everything and you’re back where you started – only louder!

The reason why cutting is preferred is that boosting also boosts the noise in the signal which is not what you want. Try it. Boost every frequency and listen to the result. If you think it sounds okay, fine. What do we know?

But when you’re fiddling, do keep an eye on the output meter. Boosting EQ inevitably means increasing the gain and it’s so-o-o-o easy to clip the output causing distortion which does not sound good.

Finally, check EQ changes to single tracks while playing back the entire piece. In other words, listen to the tracks in context with all the other tracks. It may sound fine in isolation but some frequencies may overlap onto other tracks making the piece frequency rich in some places and frequency poor in others.

Reverb

Reverb creates space. It gives the impression that a sound was recorded in a hall or canyon instead of the broom cupboard. Recording lore suggests that you record everything dry, with no reverb, so you can experiment with a choice later on. You can’t un-reverb a track once it’s been recorded.

The more reverb you apply, the further away sound will seem. To make a vocal up-front, use only enough reverb to take away the dryness. Vocals don’t want to be mushy (lyrics can be mushy) so use a bright reverb.

A common novice error is to swamp everything with different types of reverb. Don’t – it sounds horrible!

Mixing down

You’ve done all the recordings, done the edits, applied the effects and now it’s time to mix everything into a Big Number One Hit! Before you do, go home and have a good night’s sleep. Have two. In fact, sleep for a week.

Yes, we know you’re hot and raring to go but your ears are tired. They’re falling asleep. Listen carefully and you might hear then snore!

There is a phenomenon known as ear fatigue and consistent exposure to sound, especially the same frequencies, makes our ears less responsive to them. Goes back to the bit about spending your life in a Rave club – you’ll never be a master producer. If you try to mix after spending a day arranging, your ears will not be as responsive, so do them and your mix a favour by waiting at least a day.

Now, go forth and mix! And don’t forget – you get better with practice. For more information about mixing, pick up a FREE copy of Creating the Perfect Mix at www.making-music.com.

About The Author: Ian Waugh is one of the UK’s leading hi tech music writers and creator of www.making-music.com. He has written for most of the major – and not so major – hi tech music magazines in the UK and many general computing titles both offline and online. His output numbers over 2,000 articles, features and reviews and he has written several books and albums. He is the author of the “Quick Guide To…” series which includes the Quick Guide to Dance Music, Digital Audio Recording, MP3 and Digital Music and Analogue Synthesis.

How to Set Up a Home Studio

By Edgar Clyne

Nowadays, affordable computers and great audio hardware make it feasible for anyone to make great recordings. The number of soundcards available, for example, is enormous. It is impossible to describe in a few words everything that you need to start a home recording studio, but in this article I will give some valuable advice to at least get you started.

Choose the right sound card

Forget the standard soundcard that was present when you bought your computer. It lacks the features that are really important for recording. Have a look at some entry-level or more professional audio interfaces. One of the important differences is the quality of the analog-digital conversion. Decide in advance whether you want to record multiple instruments on independent tracks simultaneously. If not, a decent two-channel audio interface may be sufficient. Other things to look at are latency (degree of delay as a consequence of internal processing), bit depth, sampling frequency and the availability of preamps.

Whether you want to record your guitar or the signal of a microphone, the sound level will be usually very low if you don’t use a preamplifier. Preamps are built-in in some audio-interfaces as well as in most mixers and are recommended if quality is your primary concern. They are available as standalone units and they offer at least a gain knob that allows you to adjust the sound signal level.

Get software that suits you

You will definitely need some software to record the incoming signal to your computer’s hard drive, to edit wave forms and to mix down your music for burning a cd or distribution on the web. Software can be simple, and sometimes free, but advanced audio sequencing software is generally not cheap. Have a look at Adobe Audition for some simple work, and look for Steinberg Cubase, Logic Audio (on Mac) and Digidesign Protools (Mac and PC) at the higher end. Decide whether you are going to use MIDI or not and whether the availability of a lot of audio effect plugins is important. The more advanced software offers many routing options, automation and an enormous flexibility; however, keep in mind that you need time before you can work with it comfortably. Some learning curves are indeed very steep.

Monitors are essential

Having an audio interface and recording software is not enough. You need to be able to listen to your recordings and judge their quality in a proper way. Therefore you need a set of dedicated speakers, called ‘monitors’. Although some hi-fi speakers may do the job for a while, judging sounds is ideally done using a pair of monitors.

Microphones and preamps

Once you have these essential elements of the recording cascade, you can start investing in microphones and other gear. Choosing the right microphone is a difficult task, but as a simple rule, it is better to buy one decent microphone than a number of crappy ones. This also applies to preamps.

Conclusion

Building a cheap recording studio around your pc is perfectly possible nowadays, but you should carefully consider your needs. Check out each element of the cascade, since the worst component will actually determine your sound. And then the creative process only starts…

Edgar Clyne is a recording musician and writes for several home studio and audio recording websites.

How to Get Your Music Professionally Recorded for Free

By Lynn Monk

Generally, the first thing that springs to mind when you need to record a song, is to make enquiries with local recording studios. However, studio charges are generally based on an hourly rate that is often more than your day job pays you.

Once you’ve saved enough money for this excursion, there are then further worries. Unless you are a regular visitor to recording studios, you may not quite know what to expect. You may not be able to communicate your ideas for your sound clearly to the engineer, who really only understands technical jargon.

As the hours tick by, you will be under the stress of wondering if you’ll be able to complete your project before your money runs out. Artists under stress don’t generally perform well, but you won’t hear this yourself because you’ll be up there performing, instead of listening to the performance.

If you have also hired musicians in for the session, you’d also better be a good personnel manager. The longer they have to sit around waiting to be told what to play and how to play it, the more it is going to cost you!

It is in your best interest to use a studio that is the best you can afford. But have you taken the above problems into consideration? Have you planned out your time in the studio in the fullest detail? Do you know enough about the multitrack recording process to know exactly what tracks your song needs? Are you, or your band rehearsed enough to play every track on its own, and in perfect time with all the others in the arrangement? Can your drummer play to a click track? Or do you have detailed drum parts already programmed for your songs? Have you written detailed score sheets for all the session musicians? Do you know what kind of sound they need, and what style to play in? Have you already tried out various mix ideas and sound effects at home, and know how to explain these ideas to the engineer?

If not, you will most likely end up with a recording that isn’t quite what you expected. And it will have cost you a small fortune! At best, you will get a good recording that sounds something like you thought it would. But does it sound original to you? Has it captured your unique sound, and conveyed the essence of what you are as an original artist? Does it convey the emotion of the song correctly to the listener?

There is another way to approach the recording process that will solve all the above problems, and could even get you a professional recording made for FREE!

All the above jobs are part of the work that is generally done by a PRODUCER.

A producer is someone who has the experience to hear, not just the music, but the essence of what you are as an original artist.

A producer will know instinctively when you have made the perfect take, and will get you onto the next stage of the process without having to waste studio time playing back every take first.

A producer will have your whole sound in glorious 3D in their head before a single note is played.

A producer will have the technical knowledge to know how to translate every part of the process into something the engineer can understand.

A producer has a long list of business contacts who he can call upon at short notice to add whatever is necessary to make the sound you need … Session musicians, arrangers, writers, synth programmers, track editors, equipment rental companies, etc.

Sounds expensive, doesn’t it?

Not necessarily!

Although some producers will charge a flat rate for the job of perhaps several thousand pounds, many work from their own studios, with their own “in-house” session musicians for a royalty plus expenses. Therefore, they become somewhat like a “record company”. They will produce a recording for any artist they see potential in, in the hope that their recording will eventually be signed to a major label and make money. Of course, in these instances, you will still have to pay for the studio and session musician costs.

Sometimes they will even do the whole job for FREE, or for a minimal flat rate to cover expenses. How can they do this? Well instead of taking a royalty from your advance or sales, they take ownership of the copyright in the sound recording they make. This is fair, because, after all, they put a lot of their own money and special skills into the making of it. So what do you get in return? Of course, you get full use of the recording for your promotional needs!

Furthermore, many producers with their own studios, now also have their own record label. Wobbly Music is one such producer. Whilst you are looking for a recording or publishing deal elsewhere, or whilst promoting your record as an independent artist, your producer will have the right to sell the recording (from which you, as the artist or composer, will be paid royalties) in order to try and recoup their losses and profit from this mutual deal.

There are now a great number of producers doing deals similar to this. It means you can have a demo made, or release your own recordings for little or no money up front, whilst still retaining the freedom to sign with whoever you wish, or remain as an independent artist. So in effect, you will have a record deal working for you to earn extra royalties in the background, whilst you concentrate on doing what you do best, which is writing and/or performing great songs!

Since this kind of arrangement may not be costing you anything, it is worthwhile trying a few different producers to see whose ideas and style of production gel best with your own view of yourself and your sound.

All producers have their own unique style, just as you, as an original artist, have yours. This “sound” can be heard throughout all their productions with various artists. Look for a style that seems complimentary to your own. In other words, don’t use a Hip-hop producer to make your records if you are a Country artist!

Many good producers have a wide range of musical skills, and may also be able to write lyrics, compose melodies, write arrangements, or even play various instruments, such as guitar, piano or drums. All of these skills can be utilised to give your recordings an extra edge at minimal or no extra cost.

Finally, now that you are off to find your own producer, here are some things to avoid…

Don’t rely on pictures of their studio, and lists of top quality recording equipment to tell you how good they are as a producer.

Any piece of specialist equipment can be hired if necessary. A good producer can produce radio-ready recordings on even the most basic equipment, whereas a poor producer will not achieve such good results on even the best and most expensive equipment.

Don’t sign with a producer who doesn’t make samples of their previous work available to you.

You need to know what experience they have, and get an idea of the audio quality and styles that they can produce.

Don’t sign with a producer who comes solely from a DJ background.

These producers specialise in remixes of existing records, or “beats”, not in the creation of a new artist’s unique sound, or a recording from scratch.

Don’t sign with a producer who specialises in a genre of music that is totally different to yours …

Unless you want to change your style to that new genre!

Don’t sign with a producer who has no creativity or commercial flair of their own.

You don’t want a producer who is just going to record everything exactly as you already have it, just to please you. A good producer will see things that you have missed, and will add hooks and sounds to your songs that will attract new listeners, and interest from music industry professionals.

Don’t sign with a producer who is asking you to assign publishing rights to your songs.

You want to be free to sign your songs to record companies or publishers who may be able to do more for you in the marketing or promotion of them. Once you assign the copyright of your songs to someone, they have exclusive rights to them for the duration of your contract, or even for perpetuity! All a producer needs from you, is your written permission to record your songs, and perhaps sell their recordings or release them on their own label. If so, make sure you get at least the statutory mechanical royalties (currently 6.5%) from these sales!

Don’t sign with a producer who only works with one set of musicians.

Although many have their own preferred set of “in-house” session musicians, there will be times when your music won’t be suited to the way these musicians play. Make sure that your producer has a wide range of musical contacts to draw from.

Don’t sign to a producer who promises to make your song into a hit record.

Even if the producer has already produced several hits, there is no guarantee that your song will be a hit. Marketing gurus and sales teams make hit records, not artists and producers!

Finally, some producers may ask you to sign an exclusive contract for a certain time period (perhaps 1-5 years). These producers may also be “song-pluggers” or “promoters” who need to protect their interest in you whilst they are working to get you a deal with a major label, using the recordings they have produced.

Before signing any exclusive deal, always have the contracts looked over by a lawyer specialising in the music business. Make sure, by examining the production company’s track record, that their promise of a major deal looks likely to happen within that time period. You don’t want to be wasting five years of your life whilst your best songs are sitting on someone else’s shelf, doing nothing!

Of course, if you are a country music writer, you can go to a Nashville demo studio and get amazing sounding recordings using top country music session musicians. If you are only pitching songs to that specific market, that is great, but every recording they produce sounds like the last.

If, on the other hand, you think your music has wider appeal, or you are a performing artist yourself, you will want to be noticed in the crowd across a broader marketplace. You need to accentuate the part of your sound that is unique to YOU. A good producer will be able to recognise that which is special to you, and will make sure that your recordings take advantage of that.

Lynn Monk has experienced over 30 years in the music business as a musician, concert sound & lighting engineer, DJ and record producer; and is now the proprietor of Wobbly Music. An indie record company dedicated to supporting the “Mature Independent Artist”. http://www.wobblymusic.net/

How to Create Backing Tracks

If You Don’t Play All the Instruments… or Any

By Seth Lutnick

Congratulations! Your singing has become amazing, and it’s time the world knew. You’ve also written some songs that are just kick you-know-what. They need to be recorded, MP3ed and put on the net ASAP. But you’ve got two problems. First, you can’t afford a studio, let alone a band for all this stuff. Second, you don’t play all, or any, of the instruments.

Well there is good news. With a deft combination of the internet and today’s software, you can do wonders. While it’s never going to be the same as a true band in a real studio, which you had better hire for that big record company showcase, you can still create great backing tracks.

First, repeat after me. “I love MIDI.” Thank you.

MIDI, to refresh your memory, is like sheet music for a pianist. The paper itself makes no noises, but the pianist gets all the information he/she needs from it to let us hear Beethoven (especially if the music is also Beethoven!). In your computer set up, the MIDI file is the sheet music, the MIDI sequencer or playback program is the pianist, and your computer’s sound card and synthesizer are the piano. That’s all you need!

Before we get started, I’ll mention the ultimate cover song shortcut – the Internet! There are tons of great MIDI files of almost every piece of popular music out there. All you have to do is find them. If you can’t, or you’ve got your own material, read on. Be legal, though!

If You Play Keyboard or Guitar Well

Get your hands on a sequencer program and record your tracks. Using MIDI, you can choose the instrument sound for everything – all you need to do is input the notes. For drums, you can either record them from your keyboard or use a plug-in drum machine. If you choose to record them, a quick way to do it is to record a couple of measures and then copy/paste to fill out the song. But don’t forget to put in some drum fills!

If Your Playing Is Limited to Little or Not at All

For you there are wonderful programs, like Band in a Box and Jammer, to create backing tracks. They are very stylish; meaning, they function in styles. You must, at the very least, know the chords for your song. You simply enter the chords, choose the appropriate musical style, and click a button called “compose” (or some reasonable facsimile). Before you can say “Holy guacamole, Batman,” your music is playing. The drawback here is that your band will sound canned. And well it should,for it is! But, have no fear; there are ways to mitigate that quite well.

Making it Human

Best thing? Play what you can, at least the melody. That, in and of itself, will help tremendously, as it’s no longer just a band style playing chord progressions.

Next up, record a counterpoint. Counterpoints make ordinary songs exciting. They are secondary melodies that complement the main melody. They usually have a slightly different rhythm, and fill in where the melody has breaks. A great example is in the song “The Winner Takes It All,” by Abba. Listen to the theme that is always playing underneath the melody – it really drives the song.

Another thing you can do to put life into your tracks is to customize the style. Depending on how good you are with your software and its capabilities, you can create your own riffs and mix them into the song. Also, vary similar styles throughout the song to break the monotony. And, again, don’t underestimate drum fills!

Creative use of layering is a very effective technique. When all the tracks play all the time, it can be very boring. Wait to bring in some instruments till later in the song. That creates a “building” feel. Then, at some point towards the end, take them out again briefly to create a “break” or “bridge”. When you bring them back, it is very powerful.

Finally, don’t allow any perfection. Yes, you read that correctly. If your music is perfectly aligned rhythmically, it will sound artificial. Live musicians are never precisely on the beat. Almost all programs have a “humanize” function which corrects this automatically. Otherwise, take the time and slide some notes in the piano roll editor window. If you need quantize (rhythm correction) on the recorded tracks, set it to less than 100%.

When you’ve got your MIDI file, there are two ways to convert it to audio (wav, mp3) for CD burning. The quicker way is with a dedicated program that renders wave files from MIDI files directly. Most software synthesizer programs that have a stand-alone playback feature can do this. Otherwise, open an audio recording program, play the MIDI file, and simultaneously record the output. Make sure your audio recorder is set to receive from the correct input.

If You Play Nothing, and Don’t Know Chords or Theory or Anything

Guess what? You are the one who should hire a musician. Yes, I know that some programs will offer both a chord progression composer and even a melody composer. All you would need to do is choose the style. If you are considering going this route, I have one request for you.

PLEASE DON’T!

Sorry to yell, but think about this. The melody is composed by a computer; the chords are composed by a computer; the band is composed by a computer. It is music that is completely composed by a computer. How revolting is that?

No, my friend, hire a qualified musician. You sing the song to them, they create the magic. Do not sell yourself short. Your song is important — it’s part of you! Show it the greatest respect and make it as beautiful as you can.


Seth Lutnick is a singer, songwriter and arranger. 

Home Recording vs. Studio

By Frank Dee

As you will see from the other features in this section, it is becoming more and more feasible to set up a home recording system and obtain professional results. So, does that mean you shouldn’t consider the studio option? Both methods have their fans, with cost and control often cited as the main benefits of the DIY approach. However, let’s just look at the advantages a professional studio can offer:

First off, and to state the obvious, the recording studio is purpose-built to churn out professional recordings. It should already have the latest equipment, which will nearly always be better and more expensive than any home-based gear. But state-of-the-art technology is not much use without the expertise to exploit it. And here’s where the main advantage of the studio kicks in – the professional recording engineer.

As long as you choose a studio run by a serious engineer who cares about your music, you’ll be able to just concentrate on recording your songs and leave the technical details to the expert. You won’t have to worry about the specs of the computer, the soundcard or the cables connecting the preamps.

The engineer will know about room acoustics. This is something that is difficult to control in a home studio environment, yet is probably one of the most important factors in determining the sound of a recording. A good studio will have spent much time and money perfecting their acoustics.

An engineer will also know about correct microphone selection and have the facility to change the mics when necessary; for example by putting a bright mic on a vocalist who has been sounding dull. It’s hard to justify an expensive collection of microphones as part of a home studio set-up, but a recording studio will have this equipment readily available. The engineer will be able to suggest where to place the mics to achieve the desired sound which could avoid hours of experimenting.

Now, of course, all this comes at a price. Hiring a studio and engineer is not going to be cheap – at least if you pick a good one. But this could work in your favour. Spending money can focus the mind. You’ll be determined to get the best value per hour so you’ll take the time to get your guitar set up beforehand and you’ll ensure that your songs are ultra tight and ready to go. This sense of urgency and focus could result in a faster, better quality recording than one made after weeks of tinkering in a home environment.

Ultimately, you need to decide what method is going to work best for you, taking into account your personality and those of the other band members involved in the recording. But the decision isn’t one that should only be determined by finance.

© 2006 – 2012 CareersInMusic.co.uk

Home Recording Studio Basics

By Seth Lutnick

What are the basic pieces of equipment and software one needs to record at home?

There are so many ways to do this! Well, since you’re reading this, you probably have a computer, so let’s base our home studio on the computer.

We’ll start by understanding the different functions we will need filled in home recording. Then we’ll understand what the best hardware and software products to do it are. In general, the principle I recommend is to use fewer pieces of equipment with more functions. That approach saves time and, usually, money. As you advance in your recording skills, you can go for more specialized equipment.

There are two distinct phases in recording a song. One is the “in” phase, referring to everything needed to get your music performance into a basic recorded form, with however many tracks you need. The second phase is the “out” phase, where you will take that raw music, process it and create the final stereo version.

The “in” phase — sending the music to your computer

Music can be put into your computer either as audio or as MIDI. Audio is actual sound recordings. MIDI records no sounds, but only the digital instructions for an instrument to play. It is much like a combination of a pianist and sheet music. Without an instrument, he can make no music.

With MIDI, you are saving the note and volume instructions to be played on the instruments of your choice later on.

Although some programs let you put MIDI notes into your computer through your computer keyboard, and other programs have music generation features that allow you to create an entire backing band without playing a note, the best solution is a velocity sensitive MIDI keyboard. It gives a much more realistic performance. For example, playing a key softer will record a softer note.

Other features, such as aftertouch, allow you to add vibrato and other realistic effects.

Audio simply means actual sounds. Audio tracks will include vocals, acoustic instruments, and electronic instruments whose sounds you wish to use.

 

You will do well to get at least two microphones. Some microphones are better constructed to record vocals, while others are optimized for instruments. In addition, having two mics allows you to record in stereo, or two soloists performing at the same time.

Receiving the music into your computer

All of this will get your music up to your computer’s door. How do you get it inside?

With an audio interface that has: a microphone jack that fits your microphone cable and preamp function (so that the signal is strong enough to be properly recorded), phantom power (if you use a condenser mic that needs it), a line input for synths and sound modules, and a MIDI interface.

Remember the principle -fewer products that do more.

Some find it simpler to run every audio sound, mics and all, through a hardware mixer (with phantom power and effects) and sending that pre-processed signal to the audio interface’s line input. You’ll still need the MIDI interface function for your MIDI recording, though.

Once your audio and MIDI are inside your computer, software takes over. For our recording we will use what’s called an integrated audio/MIDI sequencer. Famous names include Cubase, Cakewalk and so forth. These programs record multiple tracks of audio and MIDI in perfect synchronization.

Now you have all the equipment you need for the “in” phase. What will you need to take the many tracks of audio and MIDI you have recorded and make a song out of them?

The “out” phase — making MIDI into music

We mentioned that MIDI is simply digital instructions, it is not actual sounds. Now we will need to create actual sounds from those instructions. There are two options for this: external and internal.

External sounds come in little boxes called sound modules (or keyboards with their own great sounds).

Sound modules have hundreds of high-quality patches that re-create every instrument in the orchestra, classic electronic sounds, spacey new synthesizer creations and sound effects.

To use them, you send the MIDI back out from the sequencer program through the audio interface’s MIDI output and into the sound module. You then take the audio output from the sound module back into your computer via the line input on your audio interface and record it on a new audio track in the sequencer. It is now a real sound and is perfectly lined up with the other tracks.

Internal sounds come in lots of different types.

Instruments that you use from within your audio/MIDI sequencer include VST instruments and software synths. The latter may automatically come with your audio interface, or require installation like any other program.

Option two is a full-blown sampler/synthesizer program, such as “Reason”, that you connect your sequencer to through a software function called “Rewire.” And there are also sound modules that come in the form of PCI cards that you physically install on your computer.

Fine tuning and effects

Just about every song will use spatial effects such as reverb and echo. You may find that some tracks are slightly out of tune. On others, there may be a consistent buzz that needs to be removed.

For all of these, you will want to have an audio editing program or plug-in. A plug-in is simply a function you can add to your basic sequencer program. Plug-ins exists for all kinds of functions, including reverb, compression, equalization, noise reduction, pitch correction and so forth.

An audio editing program is a standalone program that does all of these things. With most audio/MIDI sequencers, you can configure your software to call up the audio editing program and fix the track without leaving the sequencer.

Mixing down

Once you have all of your tracks and sounds recorded, you will need to mix them down to stereo.

Again, this can be done in an external or internal fashion.

To do it externally, you would need a hardware mixer. This method limits you to the number of tracks you can send independently through your audio interface and the number of tracks your mixer can handle. Nonetheless, mixers give you a real surface to work on, and often include quality studio effects, reverbs and such.

Internal mixing means using your audio/MIDI sequencer to mix down the entire song to two tracks. The advantage of doing it internally is the expanded number of tracks you can use. The disadvantage is the difficulty of mixing with a mouse on a computer screen. There are, however, hardware mixing surfaces which simply control your software program.

Mastering and burning

Once you have your stereo mix, you want to put the finishing touches on it.

These touches include overall compression, equalization, noise reduction, fading in and out and bringing the recording up to a normalized level of volume.

Your audio editing program should be able to handle these adequately, although there are specialized mastering programs which offer higher quality and many more enhancement features.

Then you’re ready to burn your song to CD. Odds are that your CD writing drive came with a program that does just that and you won’t need anything more. I did mention that you’ll need a CD writing drive, didn’t I? Well, now I did! And if it’s MP3 you’re after, most audio programs encode MP3s as well.

And that’s it! Now you have everything you need to make your musical magic at home. Have fun, but I don’t need to tell you that, because it just is.

 

Seth Lutnick is a singer and songwriter and somewhat of an authority on home music recording.