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Home Studio Setup

Home Studio Design

It pays to do a fair amount of planning when you are going to set up a home studio. The reason is, that there can end up being a lot of connections and equipment to uproot and rearrange later on if you want to change something.

Case in point;

I was so anxious to start my studio when I bought my first pieces of gear that I just threw everything together in a big rush. It was unbridled enthusiasm at it’s finest.

Later on, I decided that I needed to renovate my room for better acoustics and I was confronted with the spectre of having to tear the whole place apart and mothball my recording efforts for 2 months while I did the acoustic treatment.

In retrospect, I would like to think that if I had been given the kind of guidance I am going to dispense in this article I would have taken that advice but something tells me I would not have listened. If you don’t head this warning I understand. The desire for me to just record music to the detriment of all else was very strong. Were not very rational in that state of mind.

Choose Your Room

I have mentioned this in other articles on the site but it warrants repetition. Choose the room you are going to use to mix and record in firstly and wisely.  You may be stuck with it permanently once the final coats of paint are dry on your setup. It can be an all-day event just unplugging everything in many cases when you want to make a full-scale change.

Choose a room that you are going to be happy with long term.

Desk

I built a custom desk but that isn’t something most people are likely to do so you are going to have to shop around for a suitable desk. This can be a real constraint in many cases due to budget and space concerns. Make sure you plan out things like “ what am I going to do for monitors “ and consider your instrumentation.

For example, if you are a real serious keyboardist you need to consider a desk that has the capacity for a larger midi synth. You may even want to consider a desk that can handle your favourite recording or performing synth. Not all recording desks are equipped to handle a 77 key synth so you may have to shop around and spend a bit more to get something you like.

It will be a real nuisance later on if you have to swap out your desk if you start off with the wrong setup.

Better to delay your startup and get what makes sense the first time. Easier said than done, I know.

Monitor Stands

It seems trivial, but monitor stands are a factor to consider. For one, they help alleviate some issues with bass translation in your final mix but they can also be a factor in occupying space. Separate speaker stand I prefer because I can position them just how I like in the room and they make mixing your bass levels a lot better by not transmitting bass frequencies through your ask. If you lean on your desk as you listen it’s actually easy to be fooled as to how much low end there is in a track as it radiates the low end through your arms.

By having isolated monitor stands this becomes less of an issue. That is if they are built correctly. See this article for more on how to build them correctly.

https://howtomixmusic.net

How To Use Reverb In A Mix

How To Use Reverb To Create Depth

Reverb is one of the trickiest things to get right in a mix in my opinion. As I had stated in a previous article, this is one area where you can really notice amateur use of a tool when you hear it. A typical amateur Reverb sounds very “tacked on” as I had previously stated. Often this is the result of just using the stock setting for the Reverb and making no adjustments to it. Also, many times Reverb is used in situations where a combination of delay and Reverb would be more practical. We will talk more about that later on. First let’s talk about just the basic use of Reverb.

How To Use Reverb On Vocals

Listen to the video below for a peek into how I use reverb on vocals

Just about every DAW comes with some stock Reverb. Of course, there are some really good third-party options for Reverb and we will talk about those later but let’s just talk about using the stock setup you have with your Daw currently. Reverb is probably best broken down into categories. I would say the main three categories are room, Hall, and chamber. Of course, there are those who will argue that there are more categories are reverb but let’s just stick with these three for the sake of simplicity, shall we. Reverb is typically either an algorithmic representation of what natural reverb sounds like or it is an actual recording of a room played back in real time by a particular type of reverb generator called a convolution generator. Some will argue that the algorithmic reverb actually sounds more realistic compared to what reverb should sound like. When we say should sound like, this requires a little bit of historical background to get a frame of reference. Historically, reverb was produced by two methods when it was first conceived. A third came along later which we will talk about as well. The first two types of reverb were plate and spring. What came along later was what was called chamber reverb. Chamber Reverb was the domain of very expensive recording studios in many cases. The studios would build an underground concrete chamber which they would pump the signal into through a long cable into a speaker that was placed in one end of the chamber. A microphone was placed at the other end of the chamber which would pick up the signal from the speaker and push it back through to the recording studio console. This created a very unique type of Reverb that was heard on a lot of traditional recordings. Samples of these chambers are available today in your modern DAW. Take a look for them, you will see them.

Plate reverb was produced by a metal plate suspended in a box frame. The signal was fed into the plate which caused a subtle vibration in the plate which created the illusion of a reverb type effect. It’s a classic sound that was used on many older recordings in the 60’s , 70’s and even the 80’s when digital reverb came on the scene.

In 1957 a German company called EMT (Elektromesstecknik)made the first breakthrough in plate Reverb. The EMT 250 was the first in its field. When I was first learning recording techniques at Fanshawe College, we had an EMT plate Reverb. It was a massive unit weighing over 500 lb that occupied its own room off to the side of the recording control room. It had to be patched into the signal through a patchbay and you can only use it on one instrument unless you decided to record it as part of the signal during the recording process. A bit of a dangerous game in my opinion since you can’t get rid of the signal after the fact once you’ve committed to it. There are many convolution based replications of this classic plate Reverb available today. Cubase, my weapon of choice, has a convolution generator that has a couple of samples of this old EMT plate in it. Not bad, but nothing like the real thing from my memory.

There are those who will drone on constantly about how great these old tools were and how crummy their modern counterparts in the digital world are but I will still take the digital world over the old world simply because I have no access to the old world due to cost. I like to keep reminding my listeners of this because it’s easy to get sucked into one of these conversations and feel that the tools that you have are somehow inferior. It creates a mental block that suggests that we are incapable of ever getting a good mix because of the tools we have. This is nonsense and you need to put it out of your mind on a regular basis. I enjoy the Gearslutz form as much as anybody but this is one of the places you will hear a lot of this kind of talk and I’m just for arming you to put it out of your mind now and get busy learning how to use the tools that you have instead of wishing for the tools that you will never have.

The other Reverb that I spoke of, spring reverb, was also a fixture when I was first learning to record. The college or I took my recording course head in AKG spring reverb as well. It wasn’t near as popular as the Plate Reverb but it definitely had its own unique sound. A lot of people swear by spring reverb on guitar. Now I wouldn’t go using spring reverb on a heavy metal guitar in a really dense mix but it does have its place. In recordings that have a lot of space between the instruments such as 50s rhythm and blues recordings where you have a basic drums, one guitar, bass, and a single vocal. This affords a lot of open space that can be filled in with reverb.

If you listen to one of these recordings you will often hear a consistent theme. The vocals will have a very short slap delay, the guitar will have a spring reverb and the drums will have the natural sound of the studio room as ambiance. By using Reverb in this manner it fills in some of the space in between the sound and gives it a sense of depth and a sense of fullness. It also makes it sound more natural to the ear even though these various different reverb elements would never be heard in the real world at the same time on individual sounds.

This brings up an interesting point about how “illusion” is created in mixing. As I had just stated, you can literally have completely disparate types of ambient elements operating at the same time in a mix and this somehow appears completely natural to the listener even though historically their brain was never designed to hear these elements in the same setting for the most part.

There are exceptions mind you. I imagine that if I were standing at the top of a canyon and I was also standing at the mouth of a cave facing out to that canyon and I yelled really loud or clapped really loud I would hear the short hollow sound of the cave walls on one side of me and the long-reverberating decay of the canyon on the other. So I guess there are historical precedents for hearing different types of delay and reverb effects simultaneously after all.

There are really two general categories of application for Reverb. The first application is as an effect. The second is to change the positioning, or I should save percieved position of an instrument element in a mix. By applying reverb to an instrument pay attention to what is actually happening when doing so. Try this experiment. Take a dry signal on its own like a person speaking or a vocal and apply some Reverb to it. Then switch the signal on and off periodically and listen to How it pushes the signal farther away and closer.

This is an example of using reverb to move instruments forward and back in the mix. By applying reverb subtly in this way you can create the sense that an instrument is farther away or closer to the listener without actually hearing the reverb itself. Instead of having that amateur glued on effect you create a very professional depth positioning of instruments in the mix. By combining reverb elements in a mix with some dry elements in a mix you can really enhance this effect. You will often notice that guitars are a dry element in a mix particularly if the mix is really busy. Take notice of this. Go and listen to a few of your favorite songs with heavy guitar in it and notice how the guitar seems to be very close to the ear yet things like the snare drum seem to be tacked to the back wall of the room. This is very common and we don’t necessarily take conscious notice of it until someone points it out to us. Now that you are aware of it you will start to hear these depth elements everywhere you go in real life. I noticed ambient effects everywhere in the real world now in every room and in every situation. This is a good thing because now you can begin to understand how these elements are presented to us in the real world and how to manipulate this into the recording environment by replicating what we think we hear in these situations.

Our ability to hear Reverb and delay is apparently a survival mechanism that was implanted into our brain to be able to detect a danger. By having two years there can be a difference in the distance a signal has to travel to get to one ear versus the other. This very short time delay gives us The uncanny ability to sense direction. Try this for fun. Sit in a room with your eyes closed and have a friend walk around in circles snapping their fingers or talking. You will be able to point directly at them in every case. This ability is inborn into our auditory and brain perceptual mechanism. We don’t have to think about it it’s just there. As an engineer mixing a song, we can begin to think about how to use this ability that is inborn into the human physiology and give the ear various different senses of depth in the mixing process. Of course, simply knowing how the historical human brain uses delay to stay alive in a dangerous world isn’t really going to help you much when it comes to mixing.

You’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and just dive in and experiment with different elements in a mix to get something that you like the sound of. You will notice that I am speaking in general terms and not getting into many specifics when it comes to the use of reverb because you could write an entire book going into detail of every situation.  You simply have to try these things out for yourself. But this starts with being aware of what is really going on when we are listening and also listening to the work of really great engineers and how they apply these elements. Often, they are applied so subtly, as to go unnoticed. This is where the rubber meets the road. It is not arbitrary that they are using these things subtly in a mix but quite intentional. This comes back 2 the second use of reverb as a subtle depth creation element in a mix as opposed to an effect. One of the tricks that a lot of pro engineer’s use with reverb is the pre-delay setting. Pre-delay determines how much time passes from the time the initial instrument signal hits the reverb until the Reverb actually starts to generate a sound. This is usually expressed in milliseconds. You can obtain a chart somewhere on the internet that will Express how many milliseconds occur for a quarter note, eighth note, half note, and whole note at various different speeds that your digital workstation is operating at.

So, for example, if you are mixing a song at 120 beats per minute you can then determine how many milliseconds of pre-delay are necessary to put the actual beginning of the reverb signal right on the beat of the song. You’re probably sitting at a computer right now reading this so let’s take a little tour show we. Go find the Aerosmith song Dream On. Have a listen to the reverb on Steve Tyler’s voice. It has a really huge pre-delay which sounds like about a quarter note to my ear. It’s really noticeable towards the latter half of the song when it appears that the engineer is cranking up the effect to make the song More dramatic. This is a tremendously obvious use of pre-delay. You may not want to use quite this much since this is obviously trying to create an effect of sorts. You may want to use 25 to 50 milliseconds to start out just to see what it does to the signal. The purpose of pre-delay is to still give a sense of depth to the original signal without pulling the original signal completely back into the mix. By having an empty space between the beginning of the sound and the actual reverb event gets the best of both worlds. You get the sense of depth without completely pulling the signal back into the mix sphere.

Another trick you can use for a different effect that is even more natural when it comes to reverb is a combination of delay and Reverb mixed together. You can set up an individual delay and then send that signal into a reverb on a second FX channel and create something that’s far more akin to what we here in the real world. In reality, when we hear reverb we hear a series of what we call Early Reflections would sound like short delays. These are usually the first instances of the original signal coming off of the nearby walls and hitting our ears. Since these are original signals will generate the most energy they will often sound like short delays. As the signals keep bouncing off of the walls in a repeated fashion they create the signature trailing tail that we know is Reverb. That’s all Reverb really is, in fact, is a decaying series of short delays. Algorithmic Reverb generators don’t do a very good job of replicating these initial delays as well as a natural room does, so you can make this more realistic by sending a delay into a Reverb.

There was one professional mix engineer whose name escapes me right now who stated in an interview that he never ever sends a delay dry but always sends it into a reverb. His reasoning for this is that this is how delay really is perceived in the real world in a room environment or an outdoor environment for that matter. Give it a try and you will see that it has a very different sense then delay on its own. I don’t want to get into the use of delay so much in this particular article because it deserves an entire article of its own. But, I thought I would point out the use of delay and reverb as a combination since we’re on the subject of Reverb and they are both related. Another issue that needs to be addressed when we are using Reverb is how to EQ it. This requires a bit of experimentation depending on the mix. Obviously, if we have large amount of high-end energy in an hour mix and we send that into a reverb it’s going to create a lot of splashy wishy-washy noise as it repeats over and over in the Reverb send. Probably a good idea to roll off some of the high-end either inside the plugins’ interface or with the EQ on the reverb send itself. You can often darken Reverb quite a bit and you will notice that this is common practice if you start to pay attention to certain mix Engineers work in professional settings.

Occasionally, I will use the following trick on the snare. Roll off a whole lot of top and bottom end from the room microphones and focus most of the rooms EQ energy at around 500 Hertz. The snare will get that very Hollow popping decay that is heard on certain types of recordings. An example of the sound would be the song “She Drives Me Crazy” by the band “Fine Young Cannibals.” Stop right now and go look that song up and you’ll see what I mean by that 500 Hertz room sound on the snare decay. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea and not necessarily applicable to every situation but it does have a unique signature sound and it drives the point home of how Reverb can be used to create effects in special situations.

Link to video

Sometimes in order to get a proper fix on how something is really working for us, we need to look at extreme examples of it to get an idea what the limitations are. One thing you will find as you learn more about mixing and listen to more people is that there seem to be two camps. The one camp are the traditionalists who will try to convince you that there’s some sort of rule book that you have to follow if you want to be a good mix engineer. I agree, with reservations, of course.

I would agree in the sense that removing 400 Hertz from a kick drum is going to make it sound less boxy. And that, I suppose, is a sort of a rule, unless of course, you’re trying to create a boxy sounding Kick Drum for a certain reason. Which brings us to the other camp. There’s a camp that says just try a whole lot of stuff and see what happens because there are no rules in their opinion. I think it’s safe to say that both of these camps are right for certain situations at certain times. Everybody has decent ears so you need to trust in that and just keep experimenting until your ears tell you something is what you want. It will be an interesting journey and probably one of the hardest things you will ever learn to create a really good mix that you’re proud of. Often, we are our own worst critics. For this reason, play your mixes for lots of different people and get feedback. You will find the feedback invaluable and get you to see things in a way that you may not have seen them yourself. I repeat, experimentation and adaptation as we learn are really the only true teachers. All I can do is suggest some different things to prompt you and inspire you to take your own path. So go fire up your dog try out some of these tricks for yourself.

I’m going to build out a few YouTube videos illustrating some of the tricks and concepts that I’ve discovered over time and hope that they can inspire you to experiment and try your own ideas. I don’t have them prepared right now, so return back to this article at some point and I will have some for you to refer to.for you to refer to.

Thanks for listening and have a great time experimenting with reverb.

https://howtomixmusic.net

How To Make A Mix Sound Fuller

How To Make A Song Sound Full

The one thing you will notice after a time when recording tracks in the digital domain is that the clarity and transparency of your tracks is amazing.
If you have ever recorded to tape you will immediately notice the lack of background noise and hiss in a digital track. Tape has many redeemable qualities that many recording engineers seek out still to this day. Because digital is so clean and crisp, some want to recapture the beauty of tape.

But the whole point of digital recording and mixing is the accessibility that it brings to the masses. A decent Studer tape machine is still way out of most people’s price range even on the used market.

So what is so wrong with the clean signal that digital produces?

Well…….it is a little too clean. Or so many people, after working with digital, will begin to realize.

The listening experience seems to be one which is based to a large degree on our auditory “perception”.What we think we hear is often not exactly what we actually hear when it comes to combined tracks in an audio mix.

What sounds good in an individual recorded instrument is usually radically different compared to what sounds good regarding that instrument in a full mix.

The more tracks you have competing for the attention of the ear the more you have to manipulate each individual track to make space for each of them to be heard in the context of the total song.

So what does this have to do with making a mix sound fuller?

It’s a strange thing. You have all this wonderful clarity that digital brings but there is a devil in the details. Digital tracks seem to suffer from a lack of fullness. Everything seems to be present and available to the ear, but the mix always seems to lack the cohesiveness that professional mixes have. It’s actually a very difficult phenomenon to describe in words but you can definitely hear it when you listen.

In fact, I found the whole experience very stressful. My brain knew there was something wrong with what I was hearing but it was impossible to describe and even harder to rectify with tweaks to the mix.

I would add more of something to one instrument to compensate and something else would suffer. I would hit the track with more “brick wall” limiting and suddenly all the ounce of the track was gone and my drums were nonexistent.

So I would Google for solutions and wind up in some community forum where there seemed to be somewhat of a consensus of opinion as to the elusiveness of fullness and cohesiveness in the digital recording realm.

And this is where the fun begins. You start “ tumbling down the rabbit hole” so to speak. Everyone has a track, plugin,or piece of hardware they are selling or promoting as a fixed for what is ailing in a digital mix. The inevitable end game for this is G.A.S. Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

Someone tells you that you will never get the “glue” you need in a mix without a hardware bus compressor. So you go shopping for the top hardware comps to find out that even a passing grade level comp ( according to the experts ) is going to run you $2000. Really! Just to get “ that glue”

Actually, I fell victim to this one and ended up buying a hardware compressor for $1700. There was one compressor that a lot of people seemed to agree was a great deal for its ability to act as a stereo buss comp. The Elysia Expressor. I must admit if there is one thing that software has a really hard time doing as well as hardware its buss compression.

And yes, it does make a world of difference to a final track if you properly implement buss compression. It is just one of those elements that we are so used to hearing when we listen to a professional track that when it is not there it leaves an unmistakable “impression” on the ear of the listener.

Why Do My Mixes Sound Bad   

Part of the reason for that has to do with the history of recording. Tape imparts a compression effect on each track that is recorded to it and to the final mix in general since historically that is the way many of the songs we are hearing when we turn on the radio were originally recorded and mixed.

Many recording engineers were also heavy handed with buss compression back in the day when they discovered through trial and error that it had this magic effect of gelling the tracks together.

What I have noticed when applying buss compression is mot noticeable when you remove it after you get it set the way you like it to sound. Even 1 decibel of buss comp produces an effect that is remarkable when you remove it from the mix. The whole mix just seems to “ come unglued “. The instruments seem to go off on there now path and stop interacting as a unit. very hard to describe but easily perceivable when you hear it.

Thus lies one of the problems with trying to educate people on mixing solutions. The inability to describe these phenomena in words, There is no proper language, in my opinion, to adequately impart these auditory quirks to others. You simply have to experience them and muddle around experimenting until you stumble onto solutions. This can be a long process even if you are as stubborn as I am when it comes to attaining the sounds you want.

Another thing that can help when trying to add fullness to a mix is to compress the individual tracks either at the recording phase or after they are recorded. I prefer to record them after the fact since we don’t have to worry anymore about having enough compressors to get the job done. Part of the origins of recording compression at the input phase was because there was a limited number of pieces of Hardware equipment in the studio so you head to commit to recording with compression at the input stage.

In the digital world where there are virtually unlimited amounts of compressors available for each track, you can simply do it after the fact. That way you retain all of the punch and the transients that occur when a track is laid down and have total control over how much of that you want to be left after the compression phase. This brings me to another issue with digital recording. And that is the issue of transients. Transients are the initial peak of the input of the signal when recorded. They can be quite sharp and spiky not only when looked at visually on a graph representing the sound wave but to the ear itself.

This is something I began to notice early on with digital recording as well. This spikiness so to speak, or the feeling that all of the instruments were sort of jumping out and poking me in the ear instead of massaging my ear with a warmth that I’m used to from professional tracks. And so I began to analyze what I knew from my days of recording to tape and what people had told me regarding the effects that tape implies to attract. That is, the compression effect of tape. It occurred to me that if tape applied a certain amount of compression, and we really don’t know how much compression as a matter of fact, then we must assume that a little bit applied to each track may get us closer to reducing that spikiness that was occurring each time we listen back.

However, it’s really easy to go overboard with compression on individual tracks so in my mind, a little goes a long way. The effect of the compression, when applied to all tracks, will compound in the end and take away the punch that you need for each individual track 2 jump out and get the attention of the ear. This was a complaint that traditional recordists had when recording to tape. Everything was pushed down by the compression effect and so they were dealing with the opposite problem. The problem of getting things to actually jump out of the mix and have punch. So it’s a fine line. Just the right amount of compression effect can do wonders for keeping instruments under control and giving them a little more substance and body and totally killing any of their dynamics by going too far overboard.

So experiment with different compression levels on individual tracks and see what happens. Only you can decide through trial and error what is the right amount. It’s just one of those things you have to learn on your own now that you know it’s “ a thing”.

How To Get Big Sounding Mixes

Distortion

Another thing that seems to make a big difference in the perception of fullness in a recording is adding a certain amount of distortion. Harmonic distortion is a phenomenon that is traditionally associated with the recording process. Again, this is a historical Factor. We are just so used to hearing the Distortion effect that was added to tracks when signals were passed through all of these various different pieces of Hardware equipment that we have become perceptually bound to wanting to hear things in this manner. This may be an overstatement, no one can really know for sure because it is so hard to measure these things. But, when applied in the digital domain you will immediately notice a subtle increase in the fullness and thickness of individual tracks. You can go overboard with this effect too. So start out small and build on that.

This is the one area where many stock digital recording software’s seem to fall down. They lack really good distortion effects. You may have to wander into the third-party applications such as waves plugins to find something adequate to get the job done. There are a couple of free options out there that do a pretty good job so look around and try out some of the free options as well. You may find something that is really pleasing to your ear personally in the process. And, after all, they’re free so it is really just your time that you’re wasting if you find a dead too or to. There are some really good console emulation effects available as well. These can be applied to the stereo bus and really help with the fullness of a final recording. I am totally addicted to the waves console emulation plugin and use it on every mix now. It has three settings that emulate three different classic consoles and each one of them has its own sort of magic that it imparts to the mix. It also has a setting that is useful on individual tracks and I do implement that as well.

Another winner in the distortion effects domain is from Soundtoys. This one is called Decapitator. From reading articles produced by various top mixers I have come to realize this is a very common tool in a lot of their professional mixes. Decapitator seems to be a go-to of many professionals on drums in particular and a number of instruments as well. I find it particularly good on bass guitar, guitar, and just about anything that you want to make sound a little bit thicker, heavier, and fuller.

Remove some High-end

I know I keep coming back to tape and its effect on a recording. But I have a good reason. Since I was originally trained on tape and console cell recording I am painfully aware of how much difference there is in the basic tracks that I recorded to tape in the basic or tracks that I recorded in digital. Therefore, I am qualified do make some judgments about how we can marry some of these phenomenon and get the best of both worlds. Another thing that tape does to a recorded track is it removes a great deal of bottom and top end frequencies. There occurs a natural roll off of these frequencies and this is also Amplified by the fact that during the mastering process when mastering Engineers were preparing a track to be recorded to an actual vital record, there was a further roll off of high-end and low-end frequencies due to the fact that the cutting lathe which made the grooves in the vinyl simply couldn’t deal with these extremes of frequency so they were often simply removed to make the process more functional.

Again, we are used to hearing things this way and find it pleasing to the ear. Which brings me to the next way to make your tracks Fuller. Try recording or mixing with a lot less high-end frequency in your tracks. High frequency can have a masking effect that seems to blur the recording and create this veil that you simply cannot hear through to hear the actual tone of the individual instruments. The majority of the tone of each individual instrument comes from its mid-range frequencies. Every instrument has some mid-range content and its frequency spectrum, but not all have high-end and low-end content. So figuring out how to manage the mid-range elements of each recorded track seems to be where the magic lies in creating clarity and fullness. One of the tricks that I employ in sorting this out is by going to the extreme enrolling off the high end of a mix when I’m trying to sort out the individual tracks.

It seems that when you pull back a lot of the high end you get to hear through into the mid-range better and are more able to make judgments a boat which instrument should have which amount of mid-range frequency and what frequency to actually apply to each to get them to stand out. Of course this is going to take a great deal of time for you to figure out that certain frequencies just don’t play well with certain types of instruments. For example, 800 Hertz seems to really make guitars sound cheap and cheesy and so you will often find yourself removing some of that frequency from guitar. But this is not a hard-and-fast rule. You may want to add some 800 to some guitars. You just have to try it and see. Lower mid-range can be removed from a lot of drum tracks as well. This opens up space for, let’s say, bass guitar to fill in the gap, we will talk more about mix Clarity in another segment. These are just a few ideas to kind of get you in the ballpark of manipulating frequencies for fullness in a mix. The main point here is fullness. Fullness is often a lack of high-end on individual instruments. For example, I noticed that mutt Lange is a master of getting just the right amount of high frequency on an individual track.

Where I really noticed this is in his guitar tracks. His guitar tracks seem to be really chopped off at a certain frequency in the upper mid-range Spectrum. I just never noticed it immediately. One day I was listening to a Nickelback track and I wasn’t really paying a great deal of attention until suddenly it occurred to me how little high-end the guitars head. I started experimenting with this myself and also listening to other people in Forum talk about guitar and there seem to be a number of them that agreed that cutting off guitar at somewhere in the 425 kilohertz range was a very common practice. I also noticed that what seemed to be the parents of high-end in a guitar track was actually just the buzz of the distortion of the guitar.

This buzzy, fizzy sort of type of distortion that guitars are famous for sort of Tricks the ear into thinking that there’s more top-end frequency than there really is and makes the guitar stand out in the track more so then it’s clean recorded counterpart would. Naturally, guitars are a distortion element in a mix. Even what is perceived as a clean guitar is often quite distorted but in its own unique way that each guitar and each amplifier combination produces. Pay attention to this for a while and you’ll see what I mean. I often thought that the guitar sounds that I was trying to achieve, particularly ones that were clean and tangy were extremely clean. Like, Roland Jazz chorus clean. But now that I’m more attuned to what I’m listening to I realized that that sort of guitar sound is very Hollow and hard to find in a mix. It just gets lost somehow.

The distortion that I was hearing as a part of clean-ish type guitar tracks was one of the things that made it stand out in the mix and make it available to the year amongst the other tracks without being overbearing an overpowering to the entirety of the mix. This is something that guitar 10 to do in a mix. Because of this distortion effect, they tend to have a very wide, overarching frequency spectrum, that takes up a lot of space in the mix. So we have to manage them in their own unique way if we are going to ever achieve fullness in the track. Like I said, pay attention to this for a while and make it a study.

The final solution in my opinion for adding fullness to tracks is to add some Reverb two specific instruments. I have often said that this is one of the areas that really defines professional mixes from amateur mixes. And that is the ability to know how to use Ambien effects such as Reverb and delay. When amateurs use reverb the reverb often sounds like it was “tacked on” to the sound and not part of the sound. Reverb can often be used in very subtle ways to create a fullness in a sound that would otherwise be very dull and very flat. One of the areas to really pay attention to this is with the snare drum. Almost all of what we hear of a snare drum that gives it its tonality and its sound is actually the sound of the room as part of the decay after the initial hit of the drum.

This is extremely dominant with the snare drum, and that’s why I say to pay attention to it specifically. A snare drum seems to excite the sound of the room more than any other instrument because of its very high transient and its mid-range tonality. If you take away the room mics from a drum kit and listen to the snare soloed on its solo mic it off and sounds bulky and pathetic. What we perceive as the sound of the snare is actually mostly made up of the overhead mics and the splashy effect of the snare in the way it excites a room. I won’t elaborate on how to use reverb and delay at this juncture because it is far too large of a subject matter and deserves its own article to really do it justice. However, it is one of the tools that you should use in your arsenal to make a mix sound fuller, particularly if there are only a few instruments in the mix.

Double, Triple, and even Quadruple track some instrument.

And in some cases you can track instruments 20, 30 50, 100, or even 200 times. Sound unreasonable? Tell Mutt Lange that! He has often been known to track background vocals 200 times. Have a listen to some of the backing vocal track on his Def Leppard recordings. Pretty heavy amount of tracks. He had to pull off this trick using sub reductions on a tape machine. Today, with a DAW any bozo can do a 200 track backing vocal as long as their voice will hold out that long. You will notice if you listen closely to the use of multi-tracking if you pay attention. Try using this technique at the recording stage and you will notice a big difference in the fullness of the sound produced. You have to be able to replicate the performance pretty much exactly the same way on each take of it can get pretty wierd real fast.

As a recap.

  • Used a bit of compression on individual tracks
  • Try a hardware ( or software) compressor on the stereo buss.
  • Remove top end from instruments that do not absolutely need it.
  • Add some distortion to tracks
  • Add distortion to the stereo mix.
  • Really pay attention to what you ” think” you are hearing on an individual track.
  • Use reverb and delay cleverly and sparingly. ( And sometimes use it aggressively)
  • Double, triple and multiple your recorded tracks.

This should improve your mixes drastically   https://howtomixmusic.net

Home Studio Acoustic Treatment

Where to Place Acoustic Panels?

 

Below is a diagram of a typical room orientation of desk, listening position, speaker placement and probable acoustic panel placement.

Where to place Room Treatment Panels For Home studio

The black arrow lines represent the line of trajectory for sound waves emanating from the speaker and their destination at the listener’s ear.

The off-red colored rectangular blocks represent the acoustic panels.


The phenomenon that occurs in this situation is much more drastic to the quality and frequency response as perceived by the listener than one would imagine. What occurs in this situation is that the initial sound waves that radiate from the speakers radiate out in all directions.

When those sound waves make contact with hard surfaces such as walls and ceilings, they bounce off and radiate back to the listener’s ear not unlike a bank shot with a pool ball. When these frequencies arrive at your ear at various different times they cause cancellation and amplification of certain frequencies making it impossible for the listener to get an accurate representation of the frequency response of, not only the entire mix but of individual instruments as well.

The results of this can be quite dramatic. When I tested my own room for the first time using a piece of software that analyzes the frequency response at the listening position, I was shocked at the results. For example, I had a – 40-decibel drop at 150 Hertz.

The problem that occurs in a situation like this is that the listeners’ perception leads them to believe that the 150 Hertz frequency is missing from the overall spectrum of the mix. Therefore, there is a temptation to add more of this frequency to compensate.

What happens later on in a different listening environment is that the hundred 50 hertz frequency seems to be overly dominant in the mix. Of course, this will vary from room to room since every different room has its own set of cancellation and amplification anomalies. There is no perfect listening room. So if that’s the case, you might ask, what’s the point of having a flat listening response in your mix room if every room is going to sound different.

This was the question I initially had until I researched further. Here is why it is important to have a flat frequency response in a mix room. Given that all rooms are going to be anomalous, then if the mix room is as flat as possible you are not going to get double amplifications and double reductions in the rest of the variety of listening environments that people will consume the music.

Let me explain.

In the case of the missing hundred and 50-hertz frequency in mind mix room here is the scenario that would take place in other environments for example. Let’s say that I do what I would naturally do and start boosting the hundred and 50-hertz frequency on say bass guitar, guitar, drums, and any other elements in the mix that would naturally benefit from this low frequency.

Then, I play back that mix in a room that happens to have the opposite and opposing anomaly of having a boost at 150-Hertz. Let’s say that boost was 20 decibels. By compensating for the 150 Hertz frequency in the mix room, I am naturally going to have a boost of 40db in any other room given that, theoretically, it will have a flat frequency response. If another listening room has a boost of 20db as a room anomaly then the combined boost of 150 Hertz in the listening room will be on the order of 60 decibels.

That get’s ugly fast!

So How Do We Fix This?

You can never fix this situation completely unless you have a ridiculously high budget. ( Think $200,000 )

I have done a couple of room treatments for others. When they asked me what the potential cost will be I say this. For $2,000 you can fix about 80% of the frequency response anomalies in your room. To fix the rest will cost an additional $200,000. You have to know when to say when. After all, it’s just a home studio.

The first thing you want to do is deal with the early reflections that are laid out in the diagram at the top of the page.

It would be tempting to go out and buy acoustic foam panels to solve this problem because they look kind of cool and they are touted to be a great solution. After installing these in your room you will notice a difference that’s for sure.

The problem is that the main frequency spectrum that these foam panels contend with is the frequencies above 3 kilohertz. This tricks the ear into thinking that you have solved the problem because high-frequency reflections are the most obvious to the human ear. The underlying problem will still remain. The underlying problem will be that the less perceptible frequencies below 3 kilohertz will still be causing huge problems in the translation of your mix to other environments.

For this reason, it is my humble opinion that using a product like Roxul Rockboard 60 or Owens Corning high-density insulation is a far better solution. These materials have the ability to absorb frequencies all across the Spectrum. Obviously, any material is going to do a far better job at absorbing higher frequencies and mid-range frequencies then it will in dealing with low frequencies.  We do the best that we can in this situation.

It’s tempting, as I said, to go with the pre-constructed route and by the acoustic foam, but you will notice much greater benefit if you spend the extra time and build out some panels yourself from the materials listed above.

There are plenty of tutorials on Youtube that walk you through the steps involved. https://howtomixmusic.net

Best Music Recording Software

 Music Recording Software Considerations

Which digital workstation is the best? If ever there was a subject that could cause a heated debate this would be crowned victorious as the winner.

The truth, in my opinion is that they all basically do the same thing. If this is the case then it will be the subtle nuances of each system that will matter most to you as an individual.

Personally I have only worked with 2 systems myself and so I am not truly qualified to elaborate on the nuances of every DAW out there.

However, I do not believe it is necessary to know the ins and outs of every digital workstation on the market to state a case for which direction one should go. Since they all basically do the same thing, as I had previously stated, the main factors in your choice will probably be the following.

FULL VERSION OR BUDGET VERSION, What is the top choice.

I am a Cubase user so I will make the case for which version based on this system.

As of the time of this writing, there are 3 versions of Cubase you can buy. Cubase Pro, Cubase Artist, and Cubase Elements. Pro is $559 USD, Artist is $339 and Elements is $99. If you are simply going to be tracking one instrument and vocals then, by all means, save your money and buy the least expensive level of whatever DAW you are going to go with. You are going to have ample tracks and processing power with even the most modest version of a DAW to get this job done.

If, however, you are like me and have a real penchant for production and creation the choice between the mid-priced DAW and the full version is a no-brainer. Go with the full version. In the long run, you are going to spend thousands of dollars on your setup so a few hundred dollars is a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things.

This is not a sales pitch for Cubase so understand that I am just using this as an example.

Which DAW you choose is up to you. Really strong criteria you may want to consider when deciding on which workstation may be this. Do you have a friend who is already using a system currently? If so, you may want to consider going with whatever station they are using for several reasons.

In the beginning, I found the whole digital recording world a real tough go. I literally had to hire someone at $60 an hour for 10 hours to come in and fast-track my learning so I didn’t want to just throw in the towel and give up.

Being the type of person I am, and wanting desperately to make these grand musical creations right out of the gate it was a real attack on my patience to go through the initial learning curve. I am a bit short on patience, to begin with, so don’t let this little rant deter you from moving forward.

If I had to do it again I would have gone with Protools because I had a friend who was pretty serious Protools guy who I could have taken advantage of by just sitting in on some of his sessions to get the ball rolling sooner.

Case in point. I have a musician friend who I played in several bands with over the years who has recently gotten into self-recording at home. My friend has an additional limitation that hampers his learning ability. He is blind! For a long time, he did not even think that digital recording was even a possibility for him for obvious reasons. However, with the speech function that modern computers have onboard and a little help from his friends he has been able to become surprisingly functional on Protools. If he had have consulted me before starting, I would have steered him towards Cubase for the reasons I have already stated. I am far more proficient with the Cubase interface and could be a lot more help to my friend if he had have decided to use Cubase.

Oh well. I do the best I can to help and in the interim, I hooked him up with my other buddy that is a wiz a Protools, at a very affordable hourly rate when my blind friend really needs Protools specific assistance.

The main point stands. It is going to be a lot easier learning the ins and outs of your DAW of choice if you have someone close at hand when the inevitable snags show up. Little things like how to export a track vs how to export a batch of track or lust one single track can be a real hard thing to sort out when you are confronted with this task for the first time. There is always the owners manual, of course, but have you looked at how thick that thing is yet? Pretty intimidating!

Another thing to consider when choosing your first DAW is whether or not you are going to be doing collaborations with other musicians that are working out of professional studios. I know this is probably a remote possibility but just in case your answer is yes, and if it is a yes then I am going to suggest you buy Protools.

Protools is still the industry standard in the big leagues and so for ease of collaboration it makes sense in this situation. If you are using the same platform as the studios you are going to be frequenting then it affords the option of simply exporting your session at home in its entirety onto a USB stick and then opening that session up at the remote studio exactly as it was formatted at your studio. Plugins, EQ, volume setting and all just the way you left it at home. This can be a very convenient way to function and in some cases an absolute necessity.

If you are really on a shoestring budget but you still want a DAW that is full featured you can get a copy of Reaper. There is a 60-day free trial and then a  basic license is $60 and even the full version is only $225. This way if you are starting out on a super low budget you can get full features and scale up as you get a  bit more money.

I have never worked with Reaper but from the feedback, I have listened to on forums the users of it are content that it is every bit as functional as any other system out there.

Let’s go through a list of what is available in terms of DAW options on the market.

  1. Logic Pro X
  2. Pro Tools
  3. Studio One
  4. Ableton Live
  5. Cubase Pro
  6. Cakewalk Sonar
  7. Propellerhead Reason
  8. FL Studio
  9. Cockos Reaper
  10. Bitwig Studio
  11. MOTU Digital Performer
  12. Mixcraft Pro Studio

You can already see a couple of the systems I have previously mentioned previously so I won’t elaborate on them. Just the rest.

1) Logic Pro X

If you are a Mac computer user there is reason to believe that Logic is a real solid performer since it was custom created for Mac by Apple. I have not used Logic but rumor has it that the performance of the stock plugins that come bundled with the platform are second to none. It is also claimed by many users that the track count and ability to handle large projects on a Mac computer are very impressive compared to other DAW’s on a Mac.

2) Protools.

What can one say…..Industry standard. The one complaint I have heard is that Protools does not play well with PC computers. The other complaint is that the system is a bit rigid in terms of its functionality but to be fair there are some good reasons to do with cross-platform compatibility that are necessary in this regard. Hey….you gain something you have to give up something too.

3) Studio One.

Considered to be an all-around performer across all use cases. Smooth workflow and good support.

4) Abelton Live.

A big hit with creators of house, dance and trance music due to some proprietary systems functions and a large library of factory templates to fast-track the creative process.

5) Cubase Pro.

I am too biased to elaborate on Cubase but I will say that It has a really good built-in vocal editing suite with all the functions of Melodyne and also has some fantastic upgrade software, particularly in the software synthesizer department.

6)Cakewalk Sonar

This is a Windows-only software so Mac users move on. This system has been around for 25 years so it has stood the test of time.

7) Reaper

Again, Reaper is great for those on a budget yet it does not fall down on features when placed side by side with the more expensive competition

Again, I reiterate. If you have a friend who is already using a particular DAW and if it makes no difference to you I would go with the same system as your buddy. Could save you a lot of wasted time and frustration. Digital recording has come so far that anyone still standing in the marketplace would have to have something worthwhile to offer.

 

Happy recording and mixing.   https://howtomixmusic.net

Home Recording Studio Equipment List

Home Recording Studio Equipment List

If you are just starting out and are confused about what recording gear is most necessary for a home studio, the following info should get you on the right track without putting you in the poor house!

The web is a great source of information but there is an excess of opinions on any given subject to sort through and everyone’s needs and budgets are quite different.

You should not have to go into debt or take out a second mortgage on your house to get enough gear to make a perfectly satisfying recording in your own home.

Plus, you can, and should, start with the minimum necessary gear and scale up your system as you go.

There are several reasons for this which I will list here and then we will get talk about a step by step shopping list.

Next, I will talk about what you may want to consider during this phase of your purchase to better prepare for stage 2 of your gear acquisition. There will be a stage 2….trust me on this! In that case, you may as well prepare for stage 2 in stage one so as not to end up trading up your gear at a price loss when you can scale up and avoid trading in current gear at a loss.

Before we start there is one last fact I want to share that will hold you in check during this first buying phase and keep you from getting too out of control.

Here it is!   The standard DAW ( digital audio workstation ) has more features and more potential recording power right out of the box than a $10,000,000 Main St. Studio would have had 30 years ago.

Let that sink in for a while and while you’re at it you may want to write that on the back of a business card and glue it to your wallet as a reminder when you inevitably end up sleepwalking down to the local music store with a burning sensation in your back pocket.

It is easy to end up with G.A.S. ( Gear Acquisition Syndrome ) when you start into recording and $3,000 -$10,000 pieces of gear are widely available to the consumer today.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

OK. Now, let’s get to the gear.

Gear List

    1. You
    2. Computer
    3. Mixing Room
    4. Interface
    5. Preamps
    6. Microphones
    7. Cables
    8. Chair
    9. Plugins
    10. Virtual Instruments
    11. Monitors
    12. Headphones
    13. Mic Stands
    14. Monitor Stands
    15. Power Conditioner
    16. Mic Preamps
    17. Monitor Management /Switching System
    18. Midi Controller

1)First, and the most important piece of gear…………….YOU!

Yep…..YOU!  Look, I went to school for audio engineering. But in my day, ( I’m 56 now ) a Studer 24 Track tape machine was $250,000. The idea of a home studio was the domain of the insanely rich. Emphasis on “insane”. Even if you could afford the gear and had the space to use it the average person is not going to be able to make this pig sing. If I won the lottery and bought Blackbird Studio tomorrow, it does not mean I would be churning out a massive big hit sound the next day just because I now have a multi-million dollar microphone collection and a ton of tracks to record on.

It takes a talent that goes beyond the owning of the gear to get those great sounds that we are all striving for. I thought that when computing power got to the point where I could process the number of tracks that the pro’s had at their disposal that I would be able to get pretty close to the quality of audio that the Pro’s were creating to fool the public into believing that I was at least approaching the big leagues.

After all, I at least had a head start with some formal training.

First, and most important piece of gear…………….YOU!

Boy, was I wrong!

I sucked then and I still suck enough 8 years later to warrant not having enough credibility for you to even continue reading this article if it were not for the fact that it could save you from not only going mad, but it may save your marriage at the same time. ( Not kidding)

You are the biggest component in the equation. Your ears and your musical taste and creativity are going to shine through even a mediocre recording and mix at the end of the day. No amount of expensive gear is going to change that as much as you fantasize that it will!

( Read card glued to wallet one more time)

2) Your Computer

Of course, it really depends on what your goals are when we talked about what the sort of computer you are going to need to get the job done. Most modern computers are going to be satisfactory if all you want to do is record an acoustic guitar, a vocal track, a couple of backup vocals, and possibly few percussion instruments.

Now……. if your goals are much loftier than that and you want to take on large multitrack recordings and mixes you had better just make up your mind right now that you’re going to buy a fairly substantial computer if you don’t already have one.

Personally, I recommend buying a computer that you are going to use for no other purpose than recording and mixing and possibly surfing the net for musical ideas. I use a 27in iMac. The first thing you will want to do is upgrade the RAM either at the factory or as an are aftermarket upgrade. Ram is reasonably inexpensive today and you will want to go for at least 16 gigs but I really recommend 32 gigs.

Once you start heaping on lots of additional instrument tracks such as keyboards and guitar processors you are going to eat up random access memory really fast. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to get into the groove of a recording or a mix and being shut out by system overloads and crashes constantly. It’s a real joy kill and a real stitch in your creative side when the gear simply won’t obey.

The debate on computers continues as to whether you want to go with a Mac or a PC. Well, it really is up to you but my suggestion is that if you are familiar with one or the other that you stay with that particular system. That being said, there are certain, sort of, hard and fast rules in this domain that are important. Things may have changed now but this was the landscape when I was buying my first round of gear.

Side note;

RE: Pro Tools, if that ends up being your choice of digital workstation really does work much better and is much more compatible with a Mac computer. Another popular choice, Cubase, was better suited to a PC back in the day. Apparently, it was formatted originally for that platform.

End Side Note;

That being said, I use Cubase on a Mac and it works just fine for me. There are some background preference settings you’re going to need to deal with that I won’t go into at this stage since they are better addressed by watching someone do an over-the-shoulder video walking you through the steps. You may want to look that up online after you have installed your system.

Actually, the best source of this information turned out to be the Steinberg.net forum. Imagine that. Getting good solid advice from a forum set up by the very people who make the product. ( Sarcasm )  Anyway, you will get to the goal line in this regard if you do enough searching through various web boards and ask the right questions. There may even be information archived on the subject if you use the search function on the particular web board that you are using.

It’s just not something you want to try to explain to unless and until it becomes an issue.

( Read card glued to wallet one more time)

3)  Mixing Room

Ideally, you want to set aside a specific room in your house that you were going to set up as your mix room and or recording room. If this isn’t possible and you have to be shoehorned into the corner of one room or another then you are simply going to have to make do with substandard acoustics. This is unfortunate because this is probably one of the biggest factors affecting whether, or not, the recordings you make are going to translate to the outside world.

What I mean by “translate” is this. When you record and mix the track and you’re at that listening phase, and you’re satisfied with the result in your studio control room. Is that mix going to be relatively similar when played back on various different types of playback systems later on? Think computer speakers, smartphones, car stereo etc. This is probably one of the most frustrating things that I went through, because, although I was able to set aside a specific room in my house as my mix room, that room was not ideal for the job. The room I had set aside was 11 by 10 by 10 which is almost a perfect Cube. Literally, the worst possible dimensions you can ask for in a mix and or recording room is a perfect Cube.

There are a number of mathematical reasons to do with frequencies, the collision of these frequencies, and how they cancel and boost each other that comes into play here, but I won’t get into a giant acoustic diatribe at this point. You can save that for the Gearslutz “Acoustics” forum which is a great place to start getting some information regarding how to set up your room to get an ideal sound reproduction. This is an area that can really start to add up cost wise when you try to solve those problems that are inevitably going to arise in the rooms that you’re likely going to use in your own home.

I will walk you through my particular situation because I believe it can be instructive and because I believe many of you will run into a similar problem when confronted with what room you’re going to be allowed to use in your own home. It’s a practical consideration really, not many of us have the ideal 20 by 35 room with a 12-foot ceiling set aside so we can just set up a mixing desk and a bunch of gear. If you happen to be that person, I hate you. So let’s get to my situation and why I hate you.(Really, I do hate you….but can we be friends anyway!) As I said I was stuck in a room 11 by 10 by 10 so through my investigation the conclusion that I came to was to deaden the room as much as possible.

There seems to be a great debate about this particular methodology and it’s a very heated one in terms of what should be done in this situation. The conclusion I came to was laid out by one of the more senior acoustic type dudes on the Gearslutz forum who said that a small room needs to be a dead room. It is not the ideal situation for mixing and recording but it’s the only solution when your room is small and cube-shaped. I thought considering the source I’d best go with their advice. There was some subsequent support from a few of the other senior fellows who seem to generally agree with this assertion.

No article on this subject would be complete without somewhat of a recommendation as to how to go about doing this treatment. You could hire me to do it, as I have done for others, but I’m sure that you’re too far away to afford to fly me to wherever you happen to live to do the job. So you’re probably going to have to go it alone. Don’t despair, it’s not a massive undertaking.

However, to do it right, you’re going to have to get your hands dirty. There are some quick fix Solutions like Auralex and other similar types out there on the market but they aren’t necessarily going to be ideal and they aren’t going to be any less costly than what I am about to suggest. My suggestion is that you use Roxul Rockboard 60 to do the majority of your treatment.

Roxul Safe and Sound may be used as an alternative, and does a pretty decent job, and is more widely available, and less money then the Rockboard 60 is. I had to order Rockboard 60 from a specialist locally who deals with acoustics. Even the local specialist didn’t stock it. The only place I could find that stocked it was an hour and a half drive away across Metropolitan Toronto and all its nightmarish traffic to boot.

I opted to have it delivered. I often say the following to people that ask me to do this job for them, since I am suited to it working as a contractor for 30 years. “You can solve about 80% of your acoustical problems for about $2,000. To solve the other 20% could cost you $200,000. I prefer to quit while I’m ahead and stop at $2000.”

( Read card glued to wallet one more time)

The main enemy in the acoustics war is what we call early reflections. Early reflections are those the emanate from the closest surfaces to the speakers as they spit out the sound. Here is a diagram of what that might look like so that you can get an idea what you’re dealing with here.

See my article Home Studio Acoustics Guide for more.

Where to place Room Treatment Panels For Home studioThe main objectives in dealing with this are going to be the placement of 7 panels at a dimension of 2ft by 4ft in strategic locations that are going to mitigate these reflections coming back to your ear in the listening position.

Where to place these panels is quite straightforward actually. Simply imagine that the speakers are a pool ball in a pool game and that they are going to be fired at the wall from the speaker position and end up hitting you in the ear. You’re going to have to consider all four walls and the ceiling in dealing with these reflections. Depending on what type of setup you have there will also be reflections off of your desk as well. These are the least of your concern but I have suggested in certain situations that people deal with these reflections if they have a large desk surface area.

The placement of a couple of small panels matching the pool shot scenario above simply sitting on the desk surface will get the job done. The other consideration, although somewhat secondary is also quite important. This will help deal with the bass frequencies that are going to inevitably be rolling around your room creating that familiar “One Note Bass” type lower frequency sound that you typically get with a home stereo system. Not the ideal situation.

This is where Roxul Safe and Sound insulation can come in handy. You simply cut large triangles out of the insulation batts and stand them up in the corner from floor-to-ceiling and cover them up with your choice of cloth and a couple of thin strips of trim nailed to the wall to hold the bats in the cloth in place. Bass frequencies are omnidirectional and tend to roll around the room like water rolling around in a jar that’s being shaken and swirled. The best way to stop them is in the corners of the room. It’s also the most practical because we don’t spend a lot of time in the corners of our room and so the bass traps tend to stay out of our way in this setup.

For more on acoustic treatment, I go into depth in this post Home Studio Acoustics Guide.

4) Interface ( Digital to analog converter )

The first consideration you are going to want to make when deciding what digital to analog converter or interface you are going to buy is how many tracks am I going to want to record at one time.

People often start out thinking that they are just going to record themselves one track at a time and that’s all that they’re recording efforts will ever amount to. I want you to really think about this before you decide what to buy. Often, as we start to develop in the recording and mixing realm our goals begin to change and evolve over time.

Give some serious consideration to spending a little more money and getting a multitrack interface instead of just a single or 2 Channel interface. If you are in a band or plan to be in a band and think even remotely that you may want to record, for example, a drum set somewhere down the road, then consider buying a multi-channel interface now.

This will save you having to sell your initial 1 or 2 Channel interface at a loss and pay for the upgrade upgrade later. Not to mention the inevitable learning curve that’s going to go along with setting up drivers for a new interface, and all of the bugs and problems that are going to be associated with a new system as well. On the other hand, if you are absolutely sure that you are going to be a solo act recording basic instruments then, by all means, a 2-channel interface is ideal. Why 2 and not 1 channel. You may want to record in stereo you know!

If you’re planning on doing large multitrack recordings, but you plan on using digital instruments such as Superior Drummer or possibly a drum machine to do your tracks you are still only going to need a stereo interface for recording live instruments for the most part. A common use for a 2 Channel interface over a one channel interface may be either stereo micing techniques or dual miking techniques that you may want to do for acoustic guitar. You may want to capture an instrument plus the natural room sound at the same time which is also going to require 2 tracks simultaneously.

The one other reason you may want to opt for a multi-channel interface is if you currently have or plan to use in the future any hardware such as a stereo bus compressor. You are going to need the extra channels on your interface for signal routing in and out of the digital domain. Something most people would never consider if they haven’t worked with digital systems before.

Personally, I use the Steinberg MR 816 Interfaces ( no longer made ) because they have integration features that only work with Cubase. They also have built-in preamps so no need for the added cost of external preamps. Again, not a sales pitch. Just something to consider. I haven’t kept up with every piece of gear in the space and so I am sure there are other manufacturers that are creating interfaces with similar integration features with particular DAW’s and so you may want to consider going this route. I found that by having an integrated system it mitigated a whole lot of compatibility issues that I initially had with the first interface I tried.

Most companies are going to make sure their systems play well together before they are trotted out to the public.

5) Preamps

Don’t bother. Period!!!!!!!!! ( Get something with them built in like I did and save your damn money)

Not kidding here. To hell with the people on Gearslutz and their high minded talk about the coloration of the signal and all that shit. Yes, it makes a difference if you are a super pro and are looking for that subtle sound coloration and that edge over the high-level competition, but it is way overrated for the money and in my opinion, you get way more sound coloration value out of a mic selection and mic placement.

So let’s talk about microphones.

6) Microphones for Home Studio Use

Microphones are another area where costs can add up really quick. If you’re trying to record primarily vocals and acoustic guitar and can only afford one microphone I recommend a Shure Beta 58.

A regular 58 or a 57 will do just fine if you already happen to have one kicking around but for my money, the Beta 58 has just a little bit more sweetness in the high-end and therefore makes a far better vocal mic and acoustic guitar mic. For this reason, if you can only afford one mic then make it a Beta 58. You won’t be disappointed. For example, I do the majority of my vocals with a Beta 58 sitting right at my desk with no headphones and the monitors at a relatively low volume.

The off-axis rejection of the cardioid microphone is good enough to keep bleed from the monitors, when used at a moderate level of course, at a very minimum as to not affect the track in the final mix. In case you are not convinced regarding the Beta 58, keep in mind that the singer Bono from U2 uses this mic exclusively for his studio recordings. The fact of the matter is that microphone selection is a trial and error situation. There are just some mics that you’re going to sound better on than others, and it will take a little bit of experimentation to know this. Another tip is to go and rent some mic’s from your local music store before you take the plunge and spend several hundred dollars, only to find out that this mic isn’t a great sounding mic on your voice.

You can rent four or five microphones for the weekend for under a hundred bucks and go home and lay down a bunch of tracks with each so that you can hear the difference in tonality side by side. The human ear has a hard time deciding on what sounds good in isolation so it’s better to do so by comparison and this is one method that will really help you make a decision regarding microphones for voice. I keep emphasizing microphones for voice because this is probably the first microphone you’re going to need as a home recordist so I put my emphasis there. As you’re recording palette develops you are going to branch out and get a number of other microphones including, potentially, ribbon mics and condenser mics. One more topic I will bring up regarding the Beta 58 is its use in recording acoustic guitar.

I kid you not! A Beta 58 placed directly out from the 15th fret on an acoustic guitar about 1 foot away simply cannot be beaten for optimum tonality. I tested this theory out on a friend of mine who is a fairly serious recordist. He had a very short time frame to lay down an acoustic guitar track and remembered me telling him this mic technique. With inadequate time to do his usual to mic, over-the-shoulder style micing technique he simply threw up a Beta 58 a foot away from the 15th fret and let the track rip. I was talking to him a while later and he said it was utterly amazing the sound and that he didn’t even have to bother EQ being it for the final mix. Enough said on that.

Condenser Mics. 

It’s tempting to want to buy a cheap condenser mic but I am going to advise against it. The reason for this advice is that they generally sound very harsh and often have quite an audible distortion on the sibilance. You will get way more use of something like an SM7b if you want a higher and mic than you will out of a similarly priced condenser mic.

Save your money until you can buy a really good condenser if you must have one. They aren’t going to make or break your recordings.

One side note. If you really want a good condenser mic at a reasonable price you can get a cheap condenser modified by one of several mod specialists. I had a $300 Apex 460 modded by Micheal Joly Engineering and let me tell you It is tough to tell the quality difference between it and my $4000 Geffel Microtech.  I understand that he doesn’t mod that particular mic anymore but he still has many other options available. He still does a Rode NT1a mod for $399 and I am sure it is very similar. So for a grand total of $700, you end up with a mic that stands toe to toe with a $4000 mic to my ear. There are other mod guys out there but this guy won my respect so check him out.

Ribbon Mics

If you really want something that is going to add some color to a sound a ribbon mic is probably going to give you the most value. Ribbon mics are a very old design and were the standard during the early years of multi-track recording.

You can spend big money on these but there are some decent intermediate priced options. A Royer 121 is a great choice if you have $1200 but for starting out a Cascade Fathead is a pretty decent option at $400 a pair. Ribbons are very dark sound wise and have a very soft high-end that is pleasing to the ear.

7) Cables

Don’t buy the cheapest cables. For the difference in price of a good cable and a cheap one just buy the good ones.

8) Chair

Get a comfortable chair.You are going to be spending a lot of time in it. LOL

The one consideration I will emphasize that is a real sticky point for me regarding chair is the arm-rests. Make sure the chair has either adjustable armrests or forward sloping ones. If the arms are in your way when you are working it is really going to get on your nerves after a while.

9)Plugins

If you don’t know what a plug-in is yet you will soon enough.

Plugins can be another black hole for money if you’re not careful. The Waves plug-in collection has a number of bundles that you can purchase, for example. The largest bundle is around $7,000 and is absolutely overkill for any beginner and possibly overkill for anyone for that matter. I purchased it a couple years into my mixing career when it went on sale for half price. I didn’t see the light of day for 6 months after that.

It’s tempting to get crazy with plugins and it is a lot of fun mind you. However, if it were me I would start out with the plugins that come bundled with your digital workstation and stick to that for the early part of your learning curve. It’s easy to get overwhelmed twiddling the knobs on plugins.

This can really get in the way of you learning more basic things such as tracking, mic technique, recording levels, playback levels and the like. It’s a total distraction from the basics that I had to learn in the analog world when all we had was microphones a console and a tape machine.

Not that I’m trying to restrict you from exploring and having fun with all of these plug-in options because, after all, they are a whole lot of fun to play with. It’s just that I think that learning the basics of tracking and playback is very important when starting out, and it’s also important not to let peripherals such as plug-ins and get in the way of that learning.

I could list plugins for another 2 hours of reading which would be a real waste of your time and mine. Instead, I will talk about what I think the first aftermarket choices should be, and why.

The first plugins I would consider after I had a good handle on the stock DAW plugins would be some sort of distortion plugins. Particularly ones that are suitable for use on the stereo bus. The reason for this as a first choice is because digital recordings are overly clean. It was a real eye-opener for me when I first started laying down tracks and listening to the playback in digital. Having started out recording to tape, I was taken back by the subtle lack of fullness that the digital medium produced. It was very hard to describe and even harder to fix as I tinkered madly to try and attempt to render something that sounded like what my mind’s ear was used to hearing.

After a time, and after some listening to the back and forth on a few web forum discussions on the idea there seemed to be a consensus of opinion that digital needed some “dirt” to make it sound “warm”. Whatever the hell that is!

Despite the lack of proper verbiage to describe what it was that was lacking, it was agreed that distortion was the missing element needed to achieve the desired sound.

It’s true!

If you are going to learn how to use on new color creation tool this is the place to start.

Personally, I could not live without the console emulation plugins from Waves Audio. There are three different consoles emulate with this plugin. Neve, SSL, EMI. They are all quite obviously different in their tonality and they make a huge impact on the mix bus as well as on individual instruments.

Another plugin series that is really well priced and invaluable in their usefulness is the Soundtoys bundle. At about $5oo you get 6 main plugins but 2 are truly noteworthy. Decapitator and Echo Boy are absolutely amazing. Decapitator is particularly good for adding punch to drums and is a secret weapon of pro mix engineers for this application.

Actually, one of my favorite distortion plugs is one that comes stock in the Cubase library. It is called Datube. It is a ridiculously simple unit but it gives a unique grit to many types of tracks and is very light on CPU. Like I said initially, the stock plugins will get you 85% of the way to the goal line if you simply take the time to experiment with them. I like Datube on instrument tracks mainly. It’s not really suitable for vocals to my ears and bit abrupt on drums. I am willing to bet that whatever DAW you choose it will have some similar plugins that do the same job if you just take the time to try them out in a number of applications.

I happen to know for a fact that many of the great recording techniques that are held close to the chest by top dogs in the game were the result of accidental mishaps in the studio. A mic stand sags and they end up recording the guitar amp with the mic pinned to the floor and end up with some really interesting tonality that they would never have achieved otherwise. ( Just an example…not a true story) But that is how these accidents often happen.

I know this because I have had some of these pleasant incidents happen to me. They are really cool so please try weird stuff and see what happens. You won’t regret it and whatever comes of it will be your personal signature.

Anyway, the main point with all gear needs to be repeated at this point. Owning a ton of gear at first will not likely help you and is even more likely to stand in the way of progress. You have to grow into each stage of a new tool that you put on your workbench. Start small and grow from there.

First, and most important piece of gear…………….YOU!

( Read card glued to wallet one more time)

10) Virtual Instruments

At the top of my list for virtual instruments is Superior Drummer. I could not live without this one. I have tried many times to record real drums and would love to have a situation where I worked with the same drummer all the time and had a kit set up ready to record, but it is just way more trouble for my money than it is worth. Superior Drummer gets the nod for me. You can get a number of different drum and studio emulations with  this V.I. and each one is unique. The stock kit that comes packaged with Superior Drummer is a sample of the old Avatar Studio in New York City. It will get the job done for the majority of rock and pop applications.

You may find that if you record Jazz or anything a little more roots based you will probably need an upgrade.

What I like most about SD is the performance packs. You can purshase addons packs that have beats played by real drummers segments into different variations. These have Intro, Verse, Chorus, Fills, and Break sections for each section that you can drag and drop into track lanes in your session and they can be even be further edited if they are not exactly what you are needing for that part of the tune.

If you are concerned that the performances will be robotic and have that 1980’s drum machine quality think again. These beats are plyed by real drummers and are not “loched to the grid” so they retain all the original feel that was played by the artist. Simply amazing. I defy anyone to detect the lack of a real drummer in one of my recordings. Nobody has yet including some of my musician freinds with very good ears.

There are some contenders in the drum V.I. arena such as Slate Digital. I have not used Slate myself, but I have worked with people in sessions that use it and it is every bit as capable as Superior Drummer from what I can see so check them both out for yourself. The owner of the company that produces the instrument, Steven Slate, is a very driven musical entrepenuer and has worked very hard on his creations so they are going to be well thought out for sure.

For bas tracks there is still nothing that beats Trillian by Spectrasonics.  If you want to fire your bass player you can, and just might, after hearing this virtual instrument. It is a bit of a resource hog on your computer but it is worth the resources for me. You can always print the track and disable the instrument if you find it overloading a session so don’t let that concern you. This is one of the reasons I had mentioned earlier to upgrade your computer if you think you might want to get serious about digital recording. To do it well, especially if you like to write alone as I do, can get expensive fast. I love it though and have no problem paying $300 for a good virtual instrument that does what these first choices do. Well worth the price!

Trillian has samples of just about every stringed and electronic bass that was ever made in the last 50 years. Simply endless choices. And like Superior Drummer, it has all the performance subtlties that you want from a real bass player. It has “accent randomness” built in so that every note does not sound robotic. Litle things like string squeaks and fret buzz here and there that are the auditory cues of a real musical performance. Again ……..amazing. I will often forego playing the part if it is not too complicated and just lay down the track with Trillian.

Saves time in many cases and more often than not the tone is better than with a real bass.

Some Other Contenders For Winning Virtual Instruments

Omnisphere ( Also by Spectrasonics )

Native Instruments Komplete 11

Steinberg Absolute 2

IK Miroslav Philharmonik Orchestra & Choir ( Another personal favorite I use a lot )

Massive by Native Instruments

There are so many one could list so I will leave some to your own investigation. This is a jungle that you can get lost in pretty fast!

11)Monitors

This is a really subjective aspect of the home studio aficionado. Everyone will have a different opinion on what the best monitors are. The main thing to focus on is budget because you can really spend big money on monitors.

My advice….spend more on fixing your room acoustics and less on the monitors!

I would far rather listen to cheap monitors in really good room that listen to $50,000 one is a crappy room.

I do not own the following recommendation but I have heard the Yamaha  HS series many times and for the money I think they cannot be beaten. I have Adam AX7’s and to be honest, they are a bit hard to get used to because they are a bit Hi Fidelity and for that reason they tend to hide the “warts” in the mix and make it tougher to spot problems in a mix. They are OK once you get used to how to interpret them but I find the Yamahas are a bit more revealing of midrange issues and will help you sort out these problems faster.

After all, the mids are where most of the competition for space in a mix is going to come from so you need to be able to hear these issues readily. Yamaha has a history of success in studio monitors since I can remember.  The Yamaha NS 10 was the industry standard as a near-field monitor and still is if you go to any big console downtown studio or a good lower level studio for that matter. I hate the sound of NS 10’s but I am told if you can get a mix to sound good on them it will sound good everywhere.

They have probably been used to mix more music than any other single monitor on the market so who am I to judge.

12) Headphones

I am a big fan of Beyerdynamic 990 Pro’s and this is another area that people will debate endlessly so I will say this. You will have a very hard time getting a mix to translate well from headphones anyway so don’t get to hung up on which headphones are the best. Just get something that is pleasing to your ear and save your decision-making time for better things than obsessing over headphones.

13) Mic Stands

Just buy good quality stands. You probably aren’t going to need a whole slew of them anyway so don’t cheap out. The cheap ones absolutely stink and wear out very fast.

14) Monitor Stands

If you are handy with tools, build your own like I did. You can make them out of 3/4 inch spruce plywood, fill them with sand to add weight and this will help to avoid then tranfering low frequencies through the floor and messing up your sense of balance in the low end of the mix.

You can also just use the ones that come with any commercial mixing desk and avoid getting fanatical. I just like making stuff so I built my own.

15) Power Conditioner

Not an absolute necessity but it will help balance out voltage irregularities with your gear and acts as a system to get more outlets to plug gear into. You will need lots of those for sure so it makes sense at some point to get a few of these units. They are overly expensive so you won’t go broke with this investment.

16) Mic Preamps

Save your money and avoid in my opinion. As I previously stated….mic choice will have more impact than  a mic pre and the prices of mic pres are out to lunch for the benefit they bring to a recording IMHO. Just my 2 cents!

17) Monitor Management /Switching System

Not your first priority. Something you may want down the road if you decide you might want some small computer  speakers as a 2nd reference listening system. It can be a real benefit to listen to your mix on several speakers because, after all, that is what the real world is going to do. They are going to hear your song on every concievable speaker you can think of so it pays to try your sound out on a variety if you can.

Having a monitor management system will help you make quick switching between speakers less of a chore than if you have to actually unplug and plug in a different set of speakers constantly. That gets old fast.

I bought my system used for $150 buck so you don’t have to get ridiculous with the budget. My Presonus cheapy woks just fine for 3 sets of speakers.

18) Midi Controller

If you are a keyboard player you may want to spend a bit more money than the average person on a midi keyboard for obvious reasons, like having the key range to play like you would a real piano or synth. For the rest of you….a couple hundred bucks will get you a decent controller and if you want to save money you can easily get by without one for a long time. Don’t stress over which one if you are just using it to play a few chords or hit some drum pads on Superior Drummer. Any midi board will do that for you.  https://howtomixmusic.net