Archive for the Tips & Tricks Category

7 No-Brainers for Recording Electric Guitars

Posted in Recording Techniques, Tips & Tricks with tags , , , , , , on March 29, 2010 by Chris Bracco

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about anything related to actually MAKING music…..soooo, yeah. Let’s do it.

Guitarist

At first glance, an electric guitar seems like a pretty straightforward instrument to lay down. I, for one, never really stress too much over it. I can always get a decent guitar sound recorded without too much effort – thanks to my trusty Shure SM57, and some patience while tweaking the mic position millimeter by millimeter until I hear something I like. Recently, though, I had some excellent equipment and a good player to work with, so I wanted to make the session worth it, and really nail it. Enter Internet.

After some trolling around Google, and some soul searching, I’ve dug up 7 good pieces of advice to consider while recording your axe:

1. Show your axe some love – GET A TUNE-UP!

Intonation and old strings can easily transform a $1500 American Strat into an $89 Yamaha. Take care of your guitar and make sure you have some fresh strings put on about a week (max) before hitting the studio. Also, if you hear any buzzing notes or notice the higher notes are a bit out of tune, spend the $35 bucks to get that sucker tuned up. The differences are SO noticeable, and will help your guitar sound great when its time to record.

2. Spin around in circles until the hum is gone.

Sounds ridiculous, but it actually works (And it makes for some great b-roll video)! Equipment containing transformers will often cause hum interference with electric guitars, especially with single coil pickups. If you experience this humming, move the player as far away from the interfering equipment, and have the player rotate until you find an angle that produces the least amount of hum. Then, have the player stand or sit like a Roman statue throughout the entire performance. Seriously, it works. And saves you a ton of headaches trying to figure out where that damn hum is coming from.

3. Can I get a big amp sound out of a dinky practice-sized amp? YES! It’s all about mic positioning.

Here is where engineering and trickery can go hand in hand (awesome). If you don’t have the luxury of some beastly amp setup, like a JCM-800 head  over a 4×12 speaker cab packed with Celestion Vintage 30’s – then, well, fake it! Plug in the 5W tube amp, and start moving that microphone around the room. Seriously, everywhere. Try putting the microphone at the position of your head, so it “hears” what you hear. Try miking the amp from the side, the rear, the top, even the bottom (hang that wimpy thing from the ceiling!). If you lift the amp off the ground, you can eliminate bass, or shove it in the corner to enhance the bass. If it sounds brittle, try facing the amp into a corner, then miking the amp from behind. You can get some crazy cool tones just by mic positioning.

-Extra tip: pick up a pair of noise-canceling cans, enable input monitoring, and have the guitar player strum away as you experiment with mic positions. This is much easier than recording a short take, playing it back, moving the mic, recording another take, playing it back, etc (ow, my head…).

4. Double your takes RIGHT AWAY.

Many artists, producers, and engineers like to save overdubs for another day. However, guitar parts aren’t usually written out note for note – there is a bit of spontaneity involved while doing a take. If you think you may need to beef up the part a bit, it is much easier to just lay down the double track during the same session so these spontaneous moments are much easier to replicate. Swap guitars or amp settings to get a slightly different tone, and have at it. Don’t worry – you’ll nail it on the first try. 😉

5. Only use effects pedals that are crucial to the song.

I’m not gunna lie – I’m kind of a pedal whore. I love screwing around with my rig to find some crazy new sound. However, when recording, it is important to use the least amount of pedals necessary in order to get your point across. With too much going on, it’s easy for the microphone to pick up a garbled mess of junk. More often than not, reverbs can be turned off and added during mixing instead. While it may sound great live, it may not serve it’s purpose in the studio. Back it off  bit, and your track will thank you.

6. Don’t overlook timing.

Lots of axe players fear the metronome. PLEASE, make it your friend. As a result, you will have more friends. At least in the studio. Playing fast may be impressive, but if you can’t time your killer solo perfectly with the click track or the rhythm section, people will notice. And it will suck. My advice is to start absurdly slow with something that you normally play fast, and work your way up until you reach the desired speed, while still being able to articulate the notes well. If you already have experience playing with a click track, then just make sure you get a few weeks of solid practice in before the recording session so you aren’t rusty. This saves a TON of time having to redo a rhythm take 75 times because you were off by a 1/16th note in the bridge.

7. Broke? Get a 57.

The Shure SM57 is the go-to microphone for recording electric guitars. You can get one used on eBay for like 75 bucks, which is dirt cheap compared to the other end of the microphone pricing spectrum. GET ONE. This thing is a warrior, and will probably outlive you. Just place it in front of your cab and you are pretty much guaranteed an okay guitar sound. Play around with mic positioning and you can track some excellent tones! If you are the non-conformist type, or have some extra cash on hand, give the  Sennheiser MD 421 a try. You can get some cool sounds outta that guy as well.

I hope these no-brainer tips were helpful! Even if you have been given all of this advice before, consider them as important reminders. 🙂

_chris

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Learning a New Instrument

Posted in Newbies, Tips & Tricks with tags , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2010 by Chris Bracco

Happy 2010 everybody! What are your goals and aspirations for this year? One of mine is to learn piano, using “traditional methods” like lessons and classes.

Piano[img courtesy of mysterytrax]

Learning a musical instrument is always a scary and daunting task for any person – musician or not. There are so many ways to start learning how to play an instrument, that just the thought of learning can be overwhelming. For the sake of this blog post, I’d like to lump them all into two categories – traditional methods and DIY methods. I’ve had experience with both of these methods, and I have a love/hate relationship with each of them.  They each have their own advantages and disadvantages, and i’ll list a few later on.

The first instrument I ever learned how to play was the trumpet, back in 3rd grade. I was in the school band and was taught by school music teachers using very traditional methods. Memorizing scales, notes on the staff, sheet music, sight reading, mezzo forte, the works. I would go home and re-practice the things that were taught to me during school, and then take proficiency tests and receive grades for my progress. I was pretty damn good, and kept at it until my junior year in high school. I gained tons of musical experience from these years of traditional learning, a lot of which I still can remember.

Here are some pros and cons that I have experienced while learning the trumpet traditionally:

Good Stuff  –

  • Starting with easy concepts and working your way up from there.
  • Structure and discipline enforced by a third party (teacher, school, whatever).
  • Tests, auditions and other tools to track your progress.
  • The “correct” way, as regarded by many industry professionals, with degrees and other certifications available to prove your proficiency.

Bad Stuff –

  • Lack of freedom/experimentation/creativity during lessons.
  • Mistakes are frowned upon.
  • “Making progress” is determined by something/someone other than the player.
  • “This is the ONLY way to learn” mentality.

At the end of my junior year in high school, I left the school band. Really, I just got bored of playing crappy school concerts for people that didn’t want to be there. It was no longer new and exciting for me.

After retiring the trumpet, I was given a guitar and just started plucking, strumming, and playing my favorite songs by ear. It was pretty liberating to just start hammering away on my acoustic guitar and not having to worry about someone telling me I was doing it all wrong. I learned how to read tabs, and found online lessons about how to pick and strum, or how to play a certain scale. I then found simple exercises to work on these techniques. While practicing, I would go off on many tangents and just improvise and play shit that I thought was cool. I would record myself with my small home recording setup to hear what I sounded like, and develop my technique until I started liking what I heard. The exploring and ambiguity of trying to do things way above my head excited me, and motivated me to get better and try new things with my instrument. Amanda Palmer clearly likes this way.

I still create and experiment everyday. It’s tons of fun. However, I spend less and less time on music theory and correct practice, and can tell that my previous knowledge of music theory is declining and become fuzzier with each passing day.

The good and bad of going at it DIY style (from my experience):

Good Stuff –

  • Total freedom while practicing.
  • Craft your own lessons and learn what you want to learn.
  • More time to experiment and be creative.
  • Build confidence in yourself and your actions.

Bad Stuff –

  • Less discipline, direction and guidance.
  • No way to measure/prove your musical knowledge.
  • You can totally suck and not even know it unless you get an outside opinion or record yourself.

Either method can work well, in my opinion. Going at it yourself definitely requires a lot more work and self-discipline, which is why it is much less popular than traditional learning. It really just depends on what kind of person you are. You can even mix the two together to allow for discipline and direction during lessons, and experimentation/creativity during your personal practice time.

This semester, I took an interest in piano and decided to give the traditional teaching methods another shot. I enrolled in a beginner’s piano course at Penn State (MUSIC 050). This morning, the professor was talking about things like pitch, the grand staff, meter, and other crazy simple musical elements. Back to square one for me, but I think it will be beneficial to go back to my musical roots.

How have you guys learned your instruments? Lets talk about your methods and experiences.

_chris

Vocal Session Preparation — Important!

Posted in Recording Techniques, Tips & Tricks on May 19, 2009 by Chris Bracco

Lets face it — preparation for anything tends to be kind of a bitch. Practicing all the parts of the music to a metronome, setting up microphone stands, setting levels/compressors/effects, laying carpets and other ghetto ways to deaden ugly frequencies. All in hopes that it will make your music sound sexier.

Last summer, while recording my band a few demo tracks, I seriously underestimated how long it would take to prep for each recording session. It was the sole reason our demo project turned into a rush job, and our recordings definitely suffered because of it!

Vocals, in particular, were a super-robo-bitch. It figures I’d find an article giving advice on how to prepare effectively NOW, and not 6 months ago. Anyway, this little ditty makes some excellent points that I’d like to share!

Microphones

1. WRITE DOWN THE LYRICS!! There’s nothing worse than a singer showing up for a session thinking he knows all the words and starts brain farting all over what could have been some great takes.

2. Set up the microphone prior to the session. The microphone should be positioned accordingly and the preamp levels should be set to some sort of baseline level so only minor adjustments need to be made once the sesh starts.

3. Patch reverb into the monitoring chain. Not necessary but it helps the singer and you get an idea of how the track will sound in the final mix

4. Digital sessions are organized and ready for playback. In the actual project file in whatever sequencer you are using (ProTools, Sonar, Cubase, etc), make sure to create several empty tracks in advance so time isn’t wasted moving things around during the session. Also, make sure you are able to playback the entire mix when needed – freeze some tracks if necessary!

5. IMPORTANT – MAKE SURE THE VOCALIST IS COMFORTABLE. Keep extra people, friends, enemies away from the session. The last thing a vocalist will want to hear is people cracking jokes about the session. Make refreshments available too! (water, wine, lemon juice, whatever their preference).

6. Don’t make them practice too long beforehand. Vocalists tend to give their best performances during the 1st hour of recording. Don’t waste it with a bunch of do-re-me’s.

7. NO Negative Feedback! Don’t tell a vocalist that a take was bad, or flat, or sharp, or poopydoodies. He/she will most likely start to hate you. Keep everything positive, compliment them when you hear something you like and ask them what THEY thought of the take if you thought something was off. Usually they will admit it.

8. Is the material ready? Are the melodies tight, rehearsed and polished accordingly? Is the singer satisfied with the arrangement of the lyrics? These questions must be addressed pre-session. I know from experience with my band because we skipped this vital step and ending up having to tailor some things here and there. This took lots of time, and our recordings suffered.

“Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity” -Henry Hartman

_chris

Simple Audio Mixing Tips Part 1

Posted in Tips & Tricks with tags , , , , , , on February 2, 2009 by Chris Bracco

Most people search tirelessly for the quick & simple answer to fix a problem. With mixing audio, quick & simple are two words that usually do not factor in to the process. Unless a mixing engineer is blessed with perfectly recorded tracks (which is becoming less and less the case due to the increasing volume of homemade recordings), he is going to have to do some fiddling around to get them sounding just right.

Here is part of a list of mixing tips I have compiled over the past few semesters. These are not magic tricks to make your recordings sound crystal clear, or totally eliminate noise, or make your one guitar track sound like 48. Also, these techniques, for the most part, are not universal; they depend on your specific tastes, and the final sound you are looking for in your mix. These are simple tips, some rules of thumb, to create certain effects, enhance certain characteristics, or clean up some of the unwanted mess in your mixes.

For now I will give you the first 5…I have been able to try most of these, but some I have yet to explore….so try some of these out and let me know how they work out for you!

1) Make pretty liberal use of volume automation. 2-3dB doses here and there will allow the more interesting fills and mini-riffs for each track poke through the mix.

2) Low Cut Eq on just about everything. Unless you are mixing hip-hop/dance/techno/trance music that requires the subwoofers to rattle your bones….most of this sub-bass rumble can totally kill an otherwise awesome sounding mix.

3) NY/Parallel compression. Duplicate a track. Compress the hell out of one of ‘em, but not the other. Mix the two to taste (with the uncompressed one being your “main” track). The compressed one gives you the “punch/oomph” and the uncompressed one keeps the dynamics & “sparkle.”

4) Whisper track. Have the singer whisper along with the vocal track and bring this up under the main vox in the mix. I got very awesome results doing this in the song “Wonderland” by ASBPK. I have it best being used subtly under the lead vocals, but if you can make it sound cool cranked up loud I’d love to hear it!

5) Use batteries in guitar/bass stomp boxes, they sound better than power adapters. I am not really sure why, nor do I care, but this really is true I’ve tried it. Less noise & less tone sucking. If only 9V’s weren’t ten bucks a pop…. 😛

I will post another 5 tips shortly. Let me know if you’ve tried any of these!

_chris