Music Production

RECORDING

SOFTWARE

Though there is a range of various different Audio and music production software available; which one you chose to use is entirely subject to the user. Each of the programmes function in much the same way, often with only minor differences. Each of the DAWs listed below would be a good choice for recording. Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, Sonar and Ableton are the industries leading brands of software DAW. Logic is renowned for being more visually appealing and better for MIDI plug-ins and programming, whereas Pro Tools has a reputation for making greater use of audio-editing functionality. Each of the programmes have similar functions but often operate in a slightly different way.

Each one can be suited to to the user and the users needs. It is important for this reason to check out the programmes before you commit to one in order to find the one best suited to your needs.

Featured below are some video tutorials and demos of Cakewalk Sonar, Logic Pro and Pro Tools; each of which are well rounded (all-in-one) music production DAW software.

Cakewalk Sonar:

Logic Pro:

Pro Tools:

STARTING A NEW PROJECT:

SAVING A PROJECT:

Its is very important to make sure when you start a new project that you save in the right location (so you can find the file with ease) and appropriately titled; bearing in mind there may be later versions of the same track at a different stages (in different places). It is also important to back-up work frequently (save in multiple places) to avoid loosing any work or progress. It is common practice to allocate a specific drive or partition for all project files or data and to avoid saving projects on the desktop of any operating system. Countless people have lost work through one means or another; from saving and working from the desktop to not backing up work periodically.

SAMPLE RATE/BIT DEPTH:

When initially starting a project, it is essential you set the project to record at the right bit-rate and sample depth. A good and common sample rate and bit depth would be 24 Bits (binary Digits) at 44,100 Hz (frequency - cycles per second). It is not uncommon for people to use higher bit rates for greater recording accuracy or for working in other areas such as music for film or television. a setting of 24bits and 41,000 Hz sampling depth would be a perfectly acceptable setting to deliver good quality signals with a good dynamic range. Increasing the Bit depth or sample rate increases the files size which when dealing with greater amounts of audio become progressively more CPU intensive.

INSERTING NEW TRACKS:

This can usually be done in most (if not all) programs by accessing the toolbar (insert/audio track). The main two types of track dealt with when recording are Audio tracks and MIDI tracks. When inserting a new track; you must make sure the tracks input is configured to receive input from the relevant input channel from the soundcard (to which the instrument is essentially connected) and make sure the out put of the track is configure to the right output of the sound card (typically 1+2 - Left and Right) so you can hear the desired audio when recorded. Always ensure you have a good signal level coming into the computer (via soundcard) without it surpassing 0dB. This is to avoid any digital clipping or distortion.

INPUT MONITORING:

Input monitoring can be applied so you can hear what is being recorded as you play it or alternatively (if your using a mixing console) you can configure the setup to take a headphone feed from the desk rather than the soundcard and monitor the input signal directly. This defeats any latency issues; however you should always test to ensure a good recorded signal before committing as you are monitoring from the desk not what is being recorded. Provided everything is working correctly there should not be any issue.

CLICK/TEMPO/BPM:

It is often common practice to set up a click track from the outset of a recording project. The speed would obviously depend on the project you were recording and whether there are any tempo/speed changes throughout the song; in which a tempo could be inserted at that point (if necessary) The easiest way to accurately set the tempo of a track is to get the performer to play it and tap the tempo (tempo tap) accordingly in the software DAW to match what they play. 1 beat per minute difference though hard to notice, makes all the difference to the overall speed and feel of the track. It is often important therefore to be specific about the tempo rather than just rounding (for example).

In the case of a live recording a click track would not be necessary, though as a result the performance would need to be good, tight with as little performance mistakes as possible as editing would be harder due to the fact that nothing has been aligned or played to the grid from the outset. Editing capability is reduced and difficulty is increased.

HEADPHONES:

When recording it is always necessary when using microphones to use headphones, particularly in the case of a home or bedroom studio due to the fact the recording often takes place in the same room as the mixing/control. When recording using microphones therefore it is always necessary to use headphones to a) hear the track and b) isolate the sound of the instrument within the room so its the only thing picked up by the microphones.

STYLE CONSIDERATION:

ENVIRONMENTS:

Each environment has different properties to another. Some rooms are reflective and some rooms are dead (designed to diffuse sound quickly with high amounts of absorption in environment) in varying proportions.

Its is not uncommon for bands to record in strange environments to help define a particular sound. People have been known to record in churches, temples, tombs, cathedrals, concert halls and pretty much any environment should be considered if appropriate to the music and/or style you intend to record.

MICROPHONE CHOICE:

There is a extremely wide choice of microphones available at varying price, each with a different characteristic and often made up of different quality components (depending on make, model and price). For the purpose of the accuracy, relevance and appropriation of this page; I will suggest more widely used, available and affordable microphone choices.

It is always important to familiarise yourself with the sound and characteristics of a good range of microphones; to make sure you have a good idea of what microphone would be appropriate for each recording session/task, based on the desired sound you wish to capture (particularly in terms of timbre or tone).

Small diaphragm microphones are often better for recording high end sound sources due to the small size of the diaphragm itself and the nature of the size or wavelength of the frequencies. A larger diaphragm condenser microphone would typically be better therefore at producing lower frequency, due to the larger size of the diaphragm.

RECORDING DIFFERENT INSTRUMENTS

ENVIRONMENTS:

When recording any instrument it is important to take into account not only what microphones will be used and how they will be positioned in accordance to the instrument, but also the situation of the instrument/performer in the room (the best sounding place in relation to the sound of the environment in which you are recording.

Microphone choices are entirely subject to the users preference, though the simplest thing to be aware of is that typically microphones are suited to a task, just biased on the style of the microphone (whether its large or small diaphragm) or how high sound pressure levels it can withstand. For example you wouldn't use a ribbon microphone inside a kick drum, due to the high pressure sound levels damaging the ribbon by witch the microphone operates.

It is also essential to make sure all instrument are in tune before record them. If using a capo it is often a good idea to retune the instrument once the capo is positioned; to assures that all instruments will be in tune with it.

DRUMS:

KICK DRUM: AKG D112 & Shure SM57/Small diaphragm condenser

It is not uncommon to use two microphones for the kick drum. An AKG D112 has been rated for years as the best value for money kick drum/low frequency instrument microphone and is use heavily throughout the industry. The AKG D112 would be positioned inside the kick drum accordingly. The other microphone used would typically be to capture the clarity of the drum. By blending the two and adjusting the positioning accordingly to counter any phase issues a good kick drum sound can be achieved.

It is very important to ensure the kick is appropriately dampened before recording too as often the sound of the skin can heard flapping, by dampening the drum with a pillow or duvet you can improve the precision of the drum.

SNARE: Shure SM57 x 2

I personally always like to use two snare microphones. One on the top (to capture the initial hit and overall attack of the drum) and one on the bottom to capture the harsh snare sound of the bottom. Two of the same microphone would be used (two SM57s ideally) for sound and recording consistency and the bottom microphone would need to have the phase reversed so the two microphones were working with each other in positive phase.

This can be understood by the direction of the snare drums skin when you hit the top with a stick. The top skin is hit away from the stick, which in tern causes the bottom skin to also move away in the same fashion as the top (based on the hit). This means that the top skin is moving away from the microphone on top and the bottom skin is moving toward the microphone at the bottom. By reversing the phase of the bottom you put the microphones into positive phase so both skins are moving away together reinforcing the snare sound resulting in a more punchy snare.

This is also know as the reverse phase snare drum technique.

TOMS: Shure SM57, Sennheiser e604

Generally hoping to use as directional microphones as possible to avoid the spill from the cymbals etc. It is often common practice to ensure the drum kit is also set up with microphone placement consideration as well as the drummers playing considerations. The Sennheiser e604 is one among many different types of Tom specific microphones and it works really well. The Shure SM57 is also heavily used throughout the industry on tom toms and snare drums (particularly)

Overheads: Shure SM81 x 2, Shure KSM 137 x 2, Rode NT4 x 1, AKG 414B x2

GLYN JOHNS OVERHEAD TECHNIQUE:

This technique has been used on much of the Led Zeppelin drum recordings from the 70s. The technique is particularly good for phase due to the equidistant positioning of the two microphones from the snare drum and kick drum.

The first microphone is be positioned directly above, pointed at the snare drum (around 4' above) and the second microphone is position over the right shoulder of the drummer (assuming he is right handed) pointed towards the snare drum. The easiest way to make sure they are the same distance is by using a microphone lead. hold one end in the middle of the snare drum, then mark with your other hand the distance (on the lead) of the microphone, then simply move the marking hand towards the other microphone. The position can then be adjusted accurately.

Another good feature of this techniques is the fact that due to the equidistant positioning you can move the microphone (pivoting from the snare) anywhere around the drum kit to achieve the right sound. Bear in mind that when using multiple microphones as well as the two overheads the relative positioning of each of the microphones an in accordance to each other increases the potential phase. This is why it is all the more important when recording drums to ensure microphones are well positioned, balanced and properly auditioned separately and together.

TRASH: Shure SM57/SM58, Neumann TLM 103, or any crappy microphone for an already raw sound

The trash microphone is often a dirty sounding microphone position around the middle of the kit next or near the drummer (facing in the same direction). This microphone is then typically used to add some raw dirtiness to the track or often delays are used on this microphone in particular to create movement in the drum sound and help to fill the space in a more rhythmic sense.

AMBIENT/ROOM: AKG 414B x2, Shure KSM 137, Shure SM81, Ribbon microphones (good for natural sound)

BASS GUITAR: Direct Injection (D.I), AKG D112 (maybe SM57 to capture amp/room clarity of bass)

Bass is generally quite straightforward to record, it is not uncommon to take a clear line (D.I) signal for the natural sound of the bass guitar (if using a nice sounding good quality bass) or a woody tone as well as an amplified and/or potential room sound. This is so the signals can be blended to find the right overall bass sound and tone. It is not uncommon for bass to be recorded simply D.I due to its low frequency nature and its application within the song (much of the high-end frequencies are often rolled off, the rest of the sound is often just shaped to compliment the track further).

It is important as always to choose the right amp (if using one) for the sound you are intending on archiving or possibly even audition amps to find the best one (if you have time).

ACOUSTIC GUITAR:

A typical stereo microphone technique for recording an acoustic guitar is to position a small diaphragm condenser microphone pointed at around the 12th-14th fret of guitar (sometimes sounds good angling the microphone towards the sound hole/bottom of fret board) and a large diaphragm condenser microphone positioned near the bridge of the guitar, marking the bridge/sound hole. Microphones should be positioned 1-3 inches away though it is important to adjust and re-position accordingly to achieve best sound for style/make/model of guitar as well as the reflective properties of the room and respective microphone choice.

When positioning multiple microphones in accordance to one another; balancing them symmetrically to the instrument and the room, often solves any phase issues.

It is important to find the best position for clarity of notes, fret and pick noise, combined with low-frequency warmth and mid-range from the sound hole; to suit the nature of the style of music but more importantly; the sound you are hoping to achieve.

Another good technique is to record a D.I signal from the guitar and position a small diaphragm condenser microphone at the 12th fret angled between the 12th fret and the sound hole. The D.I captures the dry warmth and body of thee guitar, whereas the microphone captures the natural (room effected) sound and clarity of the notes.

Typical microphone choice - 12th fret: Shure SM81/Shure SM57/Shure KSM 137. Bridge/Hole: AKG 414B/Rode NT2A/Neumann TLM103.

ELECTRIC GUITAR: Shure SM57 (close just off centre from cone), AKG 414B (distant at ratio 1:3)

It is often good practise to select the right amp for the job depending on the genre (some amps are associated with certain sounds – Randall = metal), some amps have multiple speakers in the cabinet, it is often best just to concentrate on one, as it keeps the microphones in a good vicinity to each other particularly when recording using multiple microphones.

It is not uncommon to use a dynamic microphone like an sm57 on just off centre left or right of the cone between 3 and 6 inches away (clean and clear without being too harsh on the high frequencies and not too clinical) and a distant microphone, often a condenser microphone at a distance of about 1.5 to 2 feet with the intention of blending the different timbres of each microphone to achieve the desired sound. It is also important to be aware that if you are using valve amps and equipment; the valves need to warm up to give the better, warmer sound quality (greater depth/warmth particularly on low frequencies).

Usually if you position close and distant microphones at a ratio of around 1:3, the distances would be expected to be positioned well in terms of phase, however in a recording situation it would be expected of those involved to audition microphones and adjust microphone setups accordingly to tweak the sound and achieve a specific tone or timbres; based on the overall setup and recording environment.

In some situations multiple amplifies are used with microphones on each to find the right overall blend desired. The microphones could also be panned accordingly to create left and right blends. This could be configured at the mix down stage, or a blend could be achieved and recorded as a combined signal.

VOCALS:

When recording vocals it is important to first choose the right microphone for the vocalists voice. This can be done by again auditioning microphones. Where the microphone is in the room can also effect the sound of that microphone; it is therefore often a good idea to find the best position for the microphones in the room and set up and sound treatment accordingly and audition the microphones from that position (to find the best one for the sound of the vocalists voice based on the relative position in the room and the sound treatment).

When recording vocals you must be aware of the proximity effect (increased bass response due to distance from the microphone being to little) and pops, sibilance or any pronunciation issues (this is why a pop shield should be used). Another method of countering sibilance issues, is to use an elastic band to fix a pencil central to the diaphragm of the microphone so as the singer sings into the microphone the pencil splits the air,; reducing any sibilance. This can also be achieved by positioning the microphone off axis for a less direct sound again reducing any pronunciation issues.

It is common practise if you don't have access to a vocal booth; to use foam tiles or something similar to position around the room to increase the diffusion of sound within the room. This will aid in more clear sounding vocal with a reduced room reflections being picked up by the microphone.

COMPING:

It is common practice in a recording situation to expect and encourage the artist's to play as many time as you see fit (as the producer) in order to capture the desired quality performance. This is not only to assure you capture the best performance but also to allow the performer to warm up and to make sure you capture enough takes to compile a comp or compilation of different audio takes into one super well played/performed take for use in the final mix of the song.

It is by using this technique you can get the best overall sound of each part, though this would be done more so in the editing stage or between sessions to aid in the progression and again to avoid having to rerecord parts later because of a lack of editing and compiling early on.

MULTI-TRACKING:

When multi-tracking lots of different microphones and signals at the same time, you are limited by the amount of inputs to your soundcard and/or mixing desk. for example if you have an eight channel soundcard (eight inputs) you can only record a maximum of eight tracks at the same time (onto eight different tracks in the software DAW). To capture more than eight in this situation you would have to have another soundcard or input device allowing for greater inputs. When multi-tracking is limited by the amount of inputs, overdubs are the only way (recording each bit separately) is the only option, though if you have an eight input soundcard you could use eight inputs for one instrument at a time (if needed).

To multi-track each microphone or signal would simply be plugged into its own independent channel in the soundcard and then each track would need to be configured correctly to be received from the right input/output of the soundcard. When you hi222ecord; every track will record at the same time onto the relevant signal/microphone track in the software DAW. This is a good technique to use (providing you have the means) to record live bands (with the intention of capturing amore convincing live sound). In this situation there would be a greater need usually to control the reflections of the room in which you are recording and to set or position things in the recording room to actively manage the propagation of sound and help control the spill of each instrument into the other microphones (intended for other instruments etc).

OVERDUBBING:

Overdubbing is not only a good method of adding or recording the relevant parts of the song; but also a good means to create blends and thicken out the sounds of parts in the song. These parts can be later experimented with at the mix-down stage.

Various parts you might choose to overdub particularly include the guitars (for depth at different parts as the song progresses) and the vocals (backing vocals and ad libs again to thicken out the sound but also to aid in a greater harmonic and melodic content of the song).

It is good to experiment with overdubbing to find the right sound you are looking for. Different overdubs can be panned differently to enhance the stereo image also, particularly when dealing with mono signals.

PROCESSING:

Processing can be used such as EQ when recording or maybe a little reverb in the vocalists headphones for them to hear. However it is important to be aware that if you record an altered signal (EQ applied) it is destructive to the recorded sound source, meaning if it is set incorrectly, it will be recorded that way. Whereas if you send reverb to the vocalists headphones only but record a clean signal; as much or as little can be added afterwards at the processing/mix down stage.

It is important therefore to only EQ and/or process the recorded audio if you as the producer or engineer are sure about what you are doing and are willing to commit the settings to the recorded audio. A lot of producers chose not to do this and many in fact only apply effects/EQ/processing at the later editing and processing stage, due to greater flexibility in the desired sound and no potential mistakes slowing or lengthening a recording process (particularly if working to deadlines).