Archive for recording

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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Recording A Demo CD

Posted in Music Industry, Newbies, Recording Techniques with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2009 by Chris Bracco

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(Image from http://www.associatedcontent.com)

If you’ve ever been in a band, or attended any sort of event with local music, you have surely crossed paths with “demo cds.” Unsigned bands have been using these for decades, whether it be on vinyl, cassette or CD. They are an excellent promotional tool great to hand out to fans before, during and after shows.

Demos can be created in many different ways, but all too often bands are overwhelmed by the process and don’t even know where to get started. Here are some guidelines to head you in the right direction:

1) Pick the Recording Venue: Where are you going to set up shop? Do you have the cash to book studio time, or are you planning on recording from home? If home, try to find a room in the house that is relatively dead (low echo/reverberation). If you are a one man show (acoustic guitar/singer), recording from home would suffice. If you are a twelve man bassoon army, it may be worthwhile to save up some dough and hit up the studio.

2) Choose the Recording Method: This depends largely on your budget and your style of music. Hardcore punk band crunched for money? Record live. Pop music intending to be radio friendly? Multi-track that shite.

3) Choose Recording Equipment: If you book studio time, you should check out the studio prior to your recording session to see what kind of equipment you will be able to use. If you are looking to do a home job, there are several options both cheap and expensive:

– Super Cheap: Purchase a voice/mp3 digital recorder and stick it in the middle of the room. Results will probably be crappy, but if you have virtually no money to spend, it’s better than nothing!

– Cheap: Record one of your gigs. Talk to the sound guy and see if you can work out some deal to get a recording of your show. If possible, see if they can record straight from the mixer, that usually yields better results. Nice sound guys will do it for free 🙂

– Moderate: Rent/Purchase an 8 track recorder and some microphones. Recording equipment is pretty cheap nowadays, you can usually rent or purchase everything you need from your local music store. Ebay is a good resource as well for used gear. However, this could be difficult if you do not know how to set levels correctly or use EQ effectively. Do your homework before jumping into this option!

– Expensive: Buy a computer, audio interface (sound card), sequencing software (Pro Tools, Sonar, Cubase, etc) and some microphones and create your own budget home studio! Record into the sequencer, and either mix & master the tracks yourself or send them to a studio. This will run you at least a few grand, especially if you don’t have a sufficient computer for recording music. Check out Tweakheadz website for some excellent example home studios.

-Very Expensive: Book studio time. It’s expensive, but can yield great results for your demo. Just make sure you prepare thoroughly so you don’t have to book too much extra time to finish your project.

4) Mix & Master: Record labels and fans won’t expect your demos to sound perfect, so these steps are as critical as the actual tracking. If you can put together a rough mix by yourself, more power to you. If not, there are some studios that will offer mixing & mastering services for relatively low costs, just search around your town for them.

_chris

Simple Audio Mixing Tips Part 3

Posted in Mixing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by Chris Bracco

This is the 3rd and final installment of “Simple Audio Mixing Tips!” Here are 5 more intriguing tips to try out while mixing your audio! Check ’em out:

1) Turn up the monitors pretty loud, then leave the room and shut the door and listen to the mix from outside of the room. Doing this can sometimes reveal weird things in the mix that you may not have heard from directly in front of the speakers. It can also help with making sure the track levels are well balanced. I know this may not make much sense but try it out! It really does work, some professionals use this trick and swear by it!

2) A good rule is to stay away from the last 4 to 5 dB of a plug-in’s red zone. This is important to absolutely make sure your tracks are not clipping. Clipping is bad. Very bad. Don’t let it happen or the monsters in your closet will eat you.

3) If you are recording a singer/rapper on a LDC mic and you’re getting too much sibilance and popping even when using a pop screen, try adjusting the mic (hanging inverted) so that the capsule is lined up with the bridge of the singer’s nose. This tip gets the singer/rapper to sing upwards, opening their windpipe. This helps dampen those evil Ess’s and Shh’s that us engineers hate so much. Have the vocalist step forward or backward from the mic (depending on the sound you desire), and voila. Essless vox.

4) Vocal Compression Tip: Start conservatively by going to the hottest (loudest) part of the track and setting the compression plug-in parameters so you’re not getting more than 3 dB of gain reduction. Begin by adjusting the ratio at 2:1 or 3:1, then try using an automatic attack and release if available, or if you’re hearing the compressor grab and/or release too soon, aka “pumping,” go manual and set your attack to about 40 ms and your release to 300 to 400 ms to keep the compressor smooth on the attack and release. Lower your threshold until you achieve the desired gain reduction. Compression made simple.

5) Beginner Vocal EQ Tip: I like to start by setting up a 6-band EQ on my track (I like Waves REQ, but thats just me). You can add openness, presence and intelligibility by creating a high shelf anywhere from 5- up to 12 kHz. If more presence is needed, try adding a peak EQ in the 3 to 6kHz range, or taking away 1 kHz or adding a little bit of 2 kHz (the main frequency range where the voice resides). Boosting a bit of 200 to 350 Hz will add warmth and fullness, but too much will make your track muddy. These techniques differ from singer to singer and depend on gender. Once you are confident, train your ear by first listening to the vocal solo’ed while you add EQ and then listen to it within the mix.

And that concludes this 3 part series of “Simple Audio Mixing Tips!” Keep an eye out for some more monthly tips and tricks in other aspects of the recording process!

One love,

_chris

Digital Downloads — Penn State Gets It!

Posted in Music Industry with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2009 by Chris Bracco

As I strolled ignorantly to my theater class this afternoon, completely forgetting that it had been canceled, I decided to pick up a copy of PSU’s newspaper, The Daily Collegian. And I am SO glad I did, because I came across a very refreshing article.

Digital Downloads: City Lights, other music stores wary of future

To be honest, usually most of the articles that come out of our newspaper aren’t the highest caliber. But the author of this article really surprised me with her knowledge of the music industry! It was definitely an eye-opening experience for me because until today I had yet to meet someone at PSU with as much interest in the music industry as me. If you get me rambling about the music industry up here in Happy Valley, I usually get incessant nodding or eyes rolling from listeners — frankly, it seems like they would rather do a kegstand. Not that there’s anything wrong with kegstands… 🙂 Oh, college.

Anyway, here’s what I took away from the article (with occasional comments by me). Hopefully it is useful to you guys as well:

Digital Downloads
In the first article, author Alexandra Fletcher points out that the impact of digital downloading has finally struck good ol’ Happy Valley (aka Penn State University for those of you who had no idea what that meant 3 seconds ago).

The only local brick-and-mortar music store in the downtown area, City Lights, is predicting it will go out of business by next year due to the rising popularity of digital downloads.

Knowledge Drop:

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There were 428.4 million albums sold nationwide in 2008, down from 500.5 million in 2007, according to Nielson Sound Scan. As for digital music, 844.2 million tracks sold in 2007, and in 2008 that increased to almost 1.1 billion…meanwhile, 65.8 percent of the 428.4 million albums sold in 2008, were purchased digitally, according to Nielson Sound Scan.

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I’m sure most people reading this are already aware of these trends. Clearly the value of an album has diminished. DRASTICALLY. Why, you ask?

Alexandra goes on to quote local Roustabout! concert series promoter Jesse Ruegg, who believes that album value has decreased due to the recording industry’s business strategies throughout the 80’s and 90’s:

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The art form of the album was abused as the industry ‘padded out’ an artist. The industry produced albums of 12 to 15 songs with mediocre songwriting, forcing consumers to pay ’18 bucks to find a few good tracks,’ Ruegg said.

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An upside to consumers purchasing/stealing music via digital downloading is the leveling of the playing field. Indie artists & labels can distribute their music & merchandise through the same digital mediums the pro’s use!

Chenjerai Kumanyika, a Penn State grad student in entertainment & media studies, and former member of hip-hop group The Spooks, had some very insightful things to say about this:

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This isn’t the first time the entertainment industry has had to change mediums. This is a time when listeners have more freedom to discern what’s good rather than have the music industry tell them what’s good…this is a time that has the potential to empower artists. Artists should try to use that power, and fans should recognize this as a time to choose.

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I concur, Chenjerai. I concur.

Anybody remember the transformation from sheet music to vinyl records? Well, if you’re reading blogs then you are probably a bit too young. But you get the point. Change has occurred before, the industries have endured, who’s to say we cannot endure again?

_chris

Facebook Pulled a Fast One On Us!! >:(

Posted in Music Industry with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2009 by Chris Bracco

hey guys,

this post is just a short rant about Facebook’s decision to make their “pages” (which businesses, artists, and other organizations use) look exactly like a typical facebook profile.

WHATTT???!!!

What were they thinking? I don’t know about you guys, but I think this is absolutely awful. How are organizations supposed to differentiate themselves from individuals on Facebook now? Everybody looks the same, it’s absolutely ridiculous. What is the point of creating a “page” instead of just an individual profile now? You are getting the exact same features.

The only good to come of this is that page activity will be posted on the news feeds of their respective fans, and you can update your status….but those features could have been implemented without the format change! Now, my music player is all the way at the bottom of the page, squeezed into a little box….and so is my events widget & mailing list widget…these are most important to me, and now nobody will be able to see them unless they scroll down half a page!!! And i don’t know about you but I rarely click on those “tabs” towards the top that facebook claims are oh so convenient. People usually give a website a few seconds to find something to hook them in, how are organizations with facebook pages supposed to do this now? Its impossible.

you can go here to view all of the user comments about this new implementation…i encourage you to comment both here and on facebook, I am curious to see what you guys think!

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=54590719821

I’m really interested in hearing what you guys think.

_chris

Mobile Marketing for Musicians Becoming Critical!!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2009 by Chris Bracco

While sifting through some articles over at Music Think Tank, i came across a particularly interesting one about how musicians should begin some sort of marketing campaign within the mobile device realm (ie. text messaging, mobile internet, etc):

Going Mobile – The Future of Marketing For Musicians By Ariel Hyatt

I think this is an excellent option for bands to look into, considering that more and more people are using mobile devices that have access to the internet. Most of my friends have either Blackberries or iPhones (however I am still stuck in the stone age with an LG Venus — awful phone, in case you were wondering) that they use religiously, so why not direct tour dates, cd releases and promo offers to their mobile devices?

There is definitely potential there. 🙂

_chris

Music Think Tank — My new favorite site!!

Posted in Music Industry with tags , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2009 by Chris Bracco

So i was killing some time on the internet the other day, searching for articles & opinions about the future of the music industry. As i was clicking absentmindedly from site to site to site, i stumbled across this website that instantly caught my attention: Music Think Tank

This blog has a wealth of information on it & extremely insightful discussions about where the music industry is headed.

Most of the authors i had not heard of, but i actually stumbled upon some names of people i have recently come in contact with. I recently accepted an offer for an internship with Ariel Publicity & Cyber PR for this spring semester, and it turns out both my supervisor (Christina Duren) & company owner/founder (Ariel Hyatt) had both written several articles on this blog!

I was blown away by this weird coincidence.

But anyway, check out this site and leave some comments on the articles. If you have any questions, the authors usually do answer them right then and there. Its awesome.

_chris