Archive for technique

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

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

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

Blue University

Posted in Recording Techniques with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2007 by Chris Bracco

While browsing the homerecording BBS the other day, i stumbled across a post that linked me to a place called Blue University. This is an absolutely incredible site if you want to learn about Blue Microphones and the process of recording. Sign-up is free, and the “curriculum” is seperated by degrees. It goes from B.A.S. Level to M.A.S. Level to PhD. Level, and you can take whichever ones you want (take ’em all!).

Sure, since this is being offered by the Blue Microphone company there are going to be lots of references to their products. But there is lots of valuable information about microphones in general that you can take away from this website.

Soooooo, here’s the link: http://www.bluemic.com/

Sign Up NOW!!!!!

_chris