YOUR SHORTCUT GUIDE TO MAKING & RECORDING MUSIC AT HOME: NO BORING BITS!
BRAND NEW EDITION – FULLY UPDATED PRO TOOLS, ABLETON LIVE, LOGIC, CUBASE, ACID, STUDIO ONE, REASON – HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON
• HOW TO RECORD VOCALS • USING GUITAR AMP SIMULATORS • PLUG-INS & SOFTSYNTHS EXPLAINED • FULL GLOSSARY OF TERMS
USE YOUR COMPUTER TO MAKE MUSIC: NOW! www.guerrillaguide.com.au
+ SPECIAL MOBILE APPS SECTION
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Chapter 1 — Getting Set up
Chapter 15 – Audio plug-ins
Chapter 2 – Software
Chapter 16 – Guitar amplifier simulators
Chapter 3 – Music hardware & setups
Chapter 17 – Keeping your CPU within limits
Chapter 4 – MIDI – where it all started
Chapter 18 – Mobile Apps
Chapter 5 – Digital audio
Chapter 19 – Recording vocals
Chapter 6 – Looping the loops
Chapter 20 – Mixing down
Chapter 7 – Windows & GUIs
Chapter 21 – Spending the extra dosh
Chapter 8 – The track list
Chapter 22 – Compressors
Chapter 9 – The mixer view
Chapter 23 – Monitor speakers & headphones
Chapter 10 – The edit views
Chapter 24 – Turning a room into a studio
Chapter 11 – Recording audio
Chapter 25 – Planning a recording session
Chapter 12 – Recording MIDI
Chapter 26 – Microphone placement
Chapter 13 – File management
Chapter 14 – Virtual instruments, samplers & synths
Author Graeme Hague email@example.com Publisher Philip Spencer firstname.lastname@example.org Editorial Director Christopher Holder chris@alchemedia..com.au Design & Production Leigh Ericksen email@example.com Additional Design Dominic Carey firstname.lastname@example.org Advertising Paul Cunningham email@example.com Contributors Brad Watts, Cal Orr, Martin Walker, Christopher Holder, Mark Davie.
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Introduction This is the third edition of the Guerrilla Guide and since we started it a few things have changed (but hey, of course we saw them coming) and a few things remain the same. What’s new is that many people are aiming more for that one-off YouTube hit or a successful iTunes download rather than making a compact disc. Instead of trying the traditional route of making an album and releasing it, for some folks it’s all about making one good song and waiting for the music world to beat a path to your virtual door. For others nothing has changed. It’s not about getting famous at all. Music and recording is a passion, a serious hobby and you just want to get it right. Either way, the Dream of fame, fortune and a wall full of platinum discs – or a couple of zillion hits on your YouTube page — is possible thanks to all the latest technology in computers and the availability and low price of good equipment available to the recording musician. And best of all your success can be entirely in your hands — if you have something that people want to listen to, then you can get your music out there and you can be successful without the help of managers and record companies. But, like anything worth doing, it’s not going to be dead easy… Music-making software and computers are extremely powerful and often packed with literally thousands of features, so it’s a big help when you can be pointed in the right direction. Actually, you can think about producing and recording music like you would picking up a guitar for the first time. Can you figure out how to play it yourself? Sure, it’s possible, but it helps to be shown the ropes by someone who knows. Do you need
to play like a demon to entertain a crowd and start gigging? No, of course not. But like any technical/ artistic pursuit, it’s good to get the basic techniques right, that way you can improve with practice rather than locking in bad habits. Plug Yourself In So to begin with we need to get our head around that music-making software/computer combo we just heard about. In the Guerrilla Guide, this is what we refer to as the DAW (or Digital Audio Workstation). It’s not just like a big iPod for recording and/or re-ordering your songs, not by a long shot, in fact, it’s the most creative tool you’ll probably ever own — the stuff you can do with your DAW is just mind-blowing! Like what? Well, not only can you record your performance, you can sweeten it or mangle it as much as you want in ways you never thought possible. You can add artificial reverb that sounds so amazing that studio owners paid $10,000 for it only 15 years ago. You can make your own ‘loops’ and ‘samples’ and manipulate them in a thousand ways. You can program your own music with software synthesisers that can sound like anything from retro ‘70s disco to the latest bleeding edge underground dance music. The possibilities are truly limitless. So please enjoy the Guerrilla Guide. Jump right in and read it cover-to-cover or keep it as a reference next to your computer for when you might get stuck. Let me know how you get on or just catch up with all the latest news at our website: www.guerrillaguide.com.au Good luck! Graeme Hague, Author
DAWs & Other TLAs Like any specialist area, the world of audio is rife with jargon, buzzwords, abbreviations and acronyms. Audio is especially afflicted by the TLA or Three Letter Acronym. Let’s see… there’s VST, DAT, DXi, MAS, WAV, RCA, XLR the list goes on and on. And, of course, there’s DAW — the Digital Audio Workstation. What is a DAW? It’s best we cover that here and now before going any further. A DAW is a term used to describe any of the recording/sequencing software packages on the market today. For a long time the term DAW was reserved for the superexpensive professional packages, mostly used to edit sound for film. But now, any of the popular Audio + MIDI programs like Cubase, Logic, Sonar and ProTools can be described as a DAW. MIDI? Ah. We’ll get to that a bit later. In the meantime feel free to head to our Glossary to remind yourself of any terms you’ve forgotten.
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comes to music computer set-ups, the best option is going to be a little more expensive than any discount machines that leap out of the Sunday papers at you. The idea, though, is to save you a lot of stress and disappointment. Because that’s definitely what you’ll go through trying to get any ol’ computer to run DAW software properly. First of all, where do you go to buy a computer for your DAW? Who are the real experts?
For starters, don’t go to one of those discount chain computer stores — not to buy a music computer anyway. The chances of finding someone in these ‘Superstores’ who will understand what you’re after aren’t good. No offense to the legions of salespeople who do know their RAM from their ROM, but there are some pretty specific needs for a DAW that, if you don’t allow for them, will come back to haunt you. Your software will keep glitching and freezing, the computer will crash and lock up, and you’ll invent a whole bunch of new swear words until eventually you go back to the computer store and buy that better motherboard or the extra RAM you should have gotten in the first place. Even the specialists stores are generally owned or run by people who can make a spreadsheet for the New York Stock Exchange or simultaneously fly three Sopwith Camels in Microsoft Flight Simulator and never crash, but if you explain you want to record eight tracks of 24-bit, 48kHz audio through a Firewire interface, monitor them in real time and run plug-ins on each one... well, trust me, you’ll be very lucky to find someone who’ll know what the hell you’re talking about.
Getting set up It’s okay to be a ‘newbie’, or ‘noob’, as some forums like to say (and we certainly won’t make you feel bad in any of our Audio Technology forums–check them out at www.audiotechnology. com.au/forum/). We all have to start somewhere. But for the purposes of this guide we’re going to assume you’re not a complete novice when it comes to computers. Like, you know how they work... roughly and you understand what the various hardware components do and the role of software drivers. Let’s face it, if you’ve got a nice, shiny new machine sitting on a table, but you’ve got next to no idea how it works, it’s going to be tricky getting your head around how any DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software does its stuff. What Sort of Computer Do You Need? The truth is that if we could provide you right here, right now, the latest, greatest and most up-to-date advice on computers it would still be obsolete by the time you’ve walked down the street to try and buy it. The computer industry just moves that fast. When it GG :: 4
So the obvious place to buy a DAW computer is actually in a musician’s store where they sell musical gear. Having said that, it’s worth pointing out — just to annoy you — most don’t sell them. But they will know an IT business or a local computer nerd who can build you something right — something that avoids the pitfalls of off-the-shelf PCs. Mac or PC? Whatever… Mac or PC? We’re not going to tell you. It’s probably best to make up your own mind, based on the few facts that really matter and from then on, it’s up to you. For old time’s sake, let’s start by touching briefly on the ‘PC versus Mac’ pie fight that, despite everything, is a debate that refuses to go away. In the past, the PC versus Mac argument (which one had the best operating system and which had the better, more powerful hardware) has been fierce and spiteful. It was right up there with the best conspiracy theories like ‘who shot John F Kennedy?’, ‘do UFOs really exist?’ and whether Justin Beiber’s bizarre haircut is intentional — it was a serious, passionate subject. The truth is, Mac computers were always better at multimedia applications, but seemed to be lacking in a lot of other software. Conversely, older Windows operating systems (OS for short) supported a vast amount of applications — which was appealing and useful — but only Microsoft’s Windows could spawn a whole new acronym of its own called BSOD, or ‘Blue Screen Of Death’, which is what happened when your PC collapsed under the strain and decided to have a quiet nap without asking you first. Nowadays under Windows 7 BSODs are rare and usually indicate something’s really gone wrong – probably with your PC’s hardware – but they can happen. Win7 is pretty popular with PC users. It’s stable and didn’t come with a whole bunch of bugs and problems that needed patching. You’ll see a few people sticking with Windows XP because it was so dependable, but software developers have stopped officially supporting it so its days are numbered. As for the OS in between well... sorry Mr Gates, but Vista always got the big thumbs-down. Vista is that embarrassing, badly-behaved kid you lock in the bedroom when friends come to visit. Don’t open the door. If you get a PC with Vista installed (maybe a good second-hand machine) you should immediately plan and budget for changing to Windows 7.
NEW OPERATING SYSTEM RELEASES Twenty four hours after Microsoft releases a new operating system you’ll hear rumours of a better version in the pipeline. Apple will be hinting of another “cat” to be let out of the bag, too. It’s so tempting for people like us to get the latest and greatest OS and reap the rewards (yeah… right). The problem is all the software drivers and thirdparty applications need to upgrade their programs to any new OS as well and chances are they’ll be months, if not years, behind in development. Don’t get caught out by a lack of device drivers for your computer hardware, because you upgrade the OS. You’ll have to be a little more patient.
Korg Zero 8 Is it an audio mixer? Is it a software controller? Is it a sound mangler? It’s all of the above, and demonstrates how hardware combined with software is much more powerful than software alone… provided you’ve got the dosh.
THE ‘MUSIC COMPUTER’ QUESTION
So what about Macs? Some people want their cake and try to eat it too by running Windows on Intel Macs via an Apple program called Bootcamp… while this is not exactly a practical approach for the use of DAW software it can be done.. More streamlined are Macs with their own OSX and remain the rock-solid multimedia machine they’ve always been.
computers. They don’t present the multitude of hardware choices that PCs do. When it comes to a Windows PC you’ll have a few extra things to think about that Macs just deal with on their own. DAW applications can be fussy and there are issues that for Windows can be troublesome — it’s why you need that music store expert to help you.
To be truly pragmatic, it’d be fair to say that neither computer platform is significantly better than the other anymore — and yes, someone will still disagree and pick a fight. You just have to be aware that whatever you choose, it’s the beginning of a different journey. Meaning that a lot of software you may buy over the next few years won’t work on both systems, so if you change your mind you’ll be starting all over again... for example, Logic Pro will only work on a Mac and Samplitude 11 will only work on a PC.
In no order of importance: the core of any Windows PC system is in the motherboard with its chipset and the CPU. No one expects you to become an instant IT genius, but you should know that some chipsets aren’t as efficient as others at running large amounts of multimedia data — particularly audio — and some motherboards may not come with the right expansion slots or the correct peripheral protocol for your chosen soundcard. This isn’t to say they’re bad, they were just designed with other things in mind. This is definitely where the experts should step up and give you good advice on what is currently available
PC System Basics For a few moments let’s just forget about Mac
Rule No. 1 is always get the fastest Mac you can afford, and aim to replace it during the next three to four years. With this plan of attack you can take advantage of any new power hungry plug-ins, sample players etc or updates to your pre-existing software that might appear. However, by the time your machine is over four years old you’ll find operating system upgrades will usually outclass the machine, and you’ll experience worse rather than better performance. That is unless you wish to follow Rule No. 2. Rule No. 2 disallows upgrading your operating system and DAW software entirely. Set it up (or have a tech set it up) to do the recording work you’re intending to do. Then leave it that way. It’s a similar concept to using a standalone recorder, such as a tape machine or digital recorder. This way, you won’t have your main recording machine fail halfway during a session because you’ve installed a set of incompatible plug-ins, or system upgrade that doesn’t support your current software or hardware drivers. Make sure the machine doesn’t attempt to upgrade itself via the web by either disabling the Software Update preferences or, better still, don’t connect the Mac to the web at all. Always use a separate drive to record to, as recording multiple audio tracks to the same drive Invariably leads to glitching or, worse, a system crash. The OSX operating system is working hard behind the scenes looking after virtual memory caches and generally keeping the show on the road. Don’t confuse the computer by saving your audio recordings in among thousands of tiny system files. Equally as important, is using a separate drive for any sample libraries you may
use. Sample playback plug-ins reading directly from hard drives don’t like competing with your record drive for processing bandwidth. To aid your plug-in samplers (along with overall system performance), install as much RAM as possible in the machine. Modern desktop MacPros can take an incredible 32GB — which will cost you an arm and a leg. Kick things off with at least 4GB. Software samplers can take up scads of RAM nowadays and reading those samples from RAM rather than relying on the software manufacturers direct from disk technology, is a far quicker and more reliable method. Many DAW applications take advantage of 64-bit architecture, and can consequently access larger than 4GB chunks of RAM. This is especially useful when it comes to software-samplers. However, not all plug-ins are 64-bit compliant, so tread carefully here. Check with your plug-in manufacturer for 64-bit compatibility. Turn off any non-essential processes in the system such as file sharing and the firewall. These extra processes take up valuable processing cycles that are best directed toward recording, mixing, and power hungry plug-ins. OSX has a bunch of features that you really don’t need for audio functionality — especially if the Mac isn’t connected to the web or a local network. In the System Preferences panel go to Sharing and turn off all types of sharing. Do the same with the Firewall — again in the Sharing preferences section. If you have an Airport card installed, turn that off as well. Disable the FileVault feature. This is an Apple invention for encrypting your documents so their contents remain hidden from prying eyes — many audio applications don’t take kindly to
The Guerrilla Guide strongly recommends buying a PC that’s been configured for music recording. Why? Well, if you spend your first six musicrecording months hunting down glitches and gremlins it’ll drive you mad — you may even give the whole game away. Sure, you might need to spend a couple of hundred bucks more on getting a music computer that’ll do the job properly but it’ll be worth it — there will be far less down time and far less stress. Having a reliable, predictable hardware setup is one compelling reason why many people will opt for an Apple
Mac computer. When you go to get advice from a Mac expert they don’t need to ask what configuration you have because each model is the same, while in PC Land there are a million different hardware permutations. So go to your music store and ask them to recommend a music PC builder. If the store only sells guitars and doesn’t know, ring a music store that has a ‘hi-tech’ department. Don’t give up and keep asking. Still no luck? Email us at the Guerrilla Guide or jump on the Audio Technology forums at www.audiotechnology. com.au/forum/.
this being turned on. That’s found in the Security preferences. If you’re running ProTools software turn off the Spotlight key command ( Space). The ProTools installation will warn you of this conflict. If you’re trying to squeeze the last possible smidgeon of power from your Mac, turn off any graphic-intensive processes such as animating opening applications and icon magnification in the Dock. ‘Fast user switching’ is also a processor hog, so disable this in the Accounts preference pane. Set the screen-saver to ‘never’ in the Screensaver pane and in the Energy Saver pane set your hard drives to ‘never sleep’. Speaking of hard drives, never, ever let them become completely full. You should always allow at least 10 to 15% of free space on a drive. Failing to do this can result in a drive failing to mount, or worse still, complete data loss. Rule No. 3: Repair Permissions regularly. Install Applejack (http://applejack.sourceforge.net/). Applejack is a utility that will clear up most indiscretions within your system. It diagnoses the condition of your hard drive data, repairs the system permissions and eradicates damaged preference files. It will also clear the virtual memory caches from your system drive, allowing a new set of virtual RAM files to be created. If these invisible files become corrupt you’ll experience poor performance. So whenever your machine is acting strangely, or worse, won’t boot at all, you’ll still be able to run Applejack as it runs in what’s known as Single User Mode (start up the Mac while holding down -S). More than likely the process will get your show back on the road. — Brad Watts
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and what’s compatible with the DAW you’re intending to use. With every new motherboard (and chipset released to go with it) there’s always some that work better or worse with multimedia software. CPUs are the same. Different brands like AMD or Intel will offer better performance over various models compared to each other. Who knows why within the murky, magic soup of binary decoding that every product isn’t simply brilliant at everything, but let’s just say it’s worth investigating thoroughly. Bear in mind, by the way, that when we suggest that some software doesn’t work best with particular hardware this is under conditions where things are being pushed to the limits and it’s guaranteed, when making music on a DAW, it won’t be long before you are pushing the limits. DONGLE/iLOK This is a typical USB ‘dongle’ (this one’s an iLok and is needed to run Digidesign ProTools software). The term “dongle” is disappearing in preference to fancier names like “eLicenser”, but they’re still dongles. Inside is tiny circuitry recognised by the software to confirm it’s genuine, not cracked. A lot of users hate the fact that if their dog eats the dongle or it just vanishes like an odd sock one day (it happens) then the software is inoperable until you get a replacement dongle, which can be a pain and costs
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money. Other users are annoyed to be sacrificing a USB port just for one of these things. The upside of a dongle is that you can move between two computers running your DAW without breaking any copyright laws — just install the DAW on the second computer, pop in your authorization dongle and away you go. Stop Press: Brad Watts here at the GG office put his iLok through a full cycle of the washing machine with no apparent ill affect! Undeterred, he ran the iLok through the tumble dryer… well, okay the last bit we made up.
The minimum system specification for Windows 7 is 1Gb RAM–and that’s just to run the OS. A lot of DAW recording software will work with only 1GB of RAM installed, but as soon as you start using any of the various virtual instruments that come packaged with them like Sonar X1’s Dimension Pro or XPand2 in ProTools 9, then at least 2GB of RAM is a must and 4Gb is even better. Windows 7 32-bit won’t recognise more than 4Gb anyway and to use more you’ll need to have one of the Win 7 64-bit OS on your PC (different versions allow different amounts of RAM up to 192Gb for Win 7 “Ultimate”). Macs don’t have any RAM restrictions at all...see? That’s the kind of thing Mac users are always smug about. We can dodge getting bogged down here by saying certainly never let anyone talk you into anything less than 4GB and make sure that whatever you have comes in a stick that still leaves RAM slots free for upgrades later. In other words: if you fill all four of your RAM slots with 1Gb sticks to give you 4GBin total, you’ll have no room to put say a 2GB stick later. So, if your motherboard can handle it, it is worth putting in larger capacity RAM modules /sticks to begin with. Hard drives are very important and you should have three — yes, three. This should remind you we’re already well beyond your usual brochure-in-the-letterbox type of
Microsoft’s Windows 7 works well with audio applications straight out of the box and there are only four essential adjustments that all the Windows OS still need that can each make an appreciable difference to overall performance. The first is to change Processor Scheduling to ‘Background Services’, which you do by navigating to the Advanced page of the System applet, clicking on the Performance ‘Settings’ button, selecting its Advanced tab, and then clicking on ‘Background Services’ for Processor Scheduling. For ASIO drivers, the bedrock of all audio interfaces, this is the most essential tweak of all, because ASIO drivers run as background services in Windows, and you may be able to run your audio interface at a significantly lower latency after this tweak. The second is to switch off Power Schemes. In the Power Options applet choose the ‘Always On’ power scheme, and change the settings for monitor and hard disk turn off and System standby to ‘Never’ so your PC doesn’t unexpectedly conk out during song playback. If you have the wrong setting here you can cripple the processing performance of many modern PCs because of over-clever schemes that throttle your processor to a slower clock speed to keep it cool and in the case of laptops keep the battery life as long as possible. In theory, such throttling schemes should let your CPU clock speed ramp up smoothly on demand, but in practice there’s a short time lag before this happens, sufficient to result in audio interruptions and therefore clicks and pops. The only safe way to prevent this happening is to make sure
your processor always runs at its top speed. The third is to disable System Sounds, which you do by selecting the ‘No Sounds’ scheme on the Sounds tab of the ‘Sounds and Audio Devices’ applet. The bleeps, clicks, and other sounds that Windows uses by default to accompany such events as startup, logon and logoff, new emails and the like can be helpful, but they can get in the way of your recordings and even “take over” the system and ruin everything. If you like having a few system sounds you’re just going to have to get used to turning these on and off as you start a new DAW session. Finally, turn off any anti-virus software. Usually we wouldn’t recommend having your audio PC connected to the net, so anti-virus protection isn’t needed anyway–but a lot of software needs a web connection for authorisation. Virus software can constantly examine and “check” new files you create or import (such as samples) stalling your system every time. Turn it off. There are a heap of other performance tweaks you can try–as always a quick search of the internet will bring you countless results–but if you need these in place to get your DAW up and running properly, then you’re getting desperate and either something else is wrong or your computer is drastically under-resourced. Apart from the four main ones above “tweaks” only give you marginal improvement or maybe will fix a particular problem. Since a lot of tweaks involve turning off Windows Services and potentially causing problems with the day-to-day running of your computer it’s best to try leaving them alone first.
computer here. Your first hard drive is for your ‘system drive’ alone. For a Macintosh or Windows machine this is where you install the Win 7 OS or Mac OSX and all the associated music-making programs. The second drive is dedicated to the recording/storing of audio files and the third drive takes care of storing your music samples. To elaborate, there are two major advantages in doing it this way. Firstly, if your OS drive carks it (and hard drives do sometimes fail for no good reason) you won’t lose all your audio data at the same time. Later we’ll look at file management, archiving and workflow ideas more closely, but suffice to say at the moment that there’s only one thing worse than your computer’s primary system drive spitting the dummy and that’s losing all your data files — your recordings — with it. The other big reason for having at least two hard drives is that it allows you to write your new files as they’re being recorded to a drive without any interruptions. Sure, most of the time your application is running from RAM, but there are still plenty of occasions when your system drive will need to be accessed. So when you’re recording anything, instead of just the one drive frantically trying to write new data and run an Operating System as well, it’s comfortably spreading the load. The third hard drive? Okay, virtual instruments like drums, pianos and the like, base their sounds on ‘samples’ (which are snippets of actual recordings… we’ll explain this some more later, too) and they have to be stored and pulled off a hard drive on demand at a very fast access rate. Again, it’s a great help to have a hard drive that’s dedicated to this task and not busy doing other things. The CPU spends a lot of time processing plug-ins and helping calculate/compute your audio information. So the best advice is to get the best CPU you can afford. Both AMD and Intel processors will do a reliable job, so it’s really up to personal preference as to which brand you head for and maybe what kind of deal you can hammer out on the day. Right, so you’ve got loads of RAM and multiple hard drives all connected to a compatible motherboard with a good CPU. What else? Make sure you have at least four — and preferably more — USB 2.0 ports. Six, really. These little suckers get used up quickly and it’s easy to run out. Most good motherboards will have four ports as a minimum, but don’t be tempted by a budget PC with just a couple. For instance a lot of software relies on a USB ‘dongle’ for copyright protection — the application won’t run without it being plugged in. Do a bit of web searching on dongles and you’ll find a fair amount of angst and teeth-gnashing about dongles and how they unnecessarily take up USB ports, bandwidth and can abruptly fail, rendering your software inoperable. Yes, they can be a right-royal pain, but dongles are (particularly if you run Cubase, Nuendo or Pro Tools) an unavoidable fact of life — which means you have to provide a port for it. That’s a port for the dongle, a mouse, maybe a printer, an external device like another hard drive or memory stick, a DAW control surface, an audio interface... see? Computers have a habit of collecting USB peripheral gadgets like this. Also very important, a lot of motherboards will offer USB 3.0 ports. Make sure you do have at least a couple of USB 3.0 ports. They’re not wasted, because these will work as USB 2.0 as well. In the meantime, the USB 3.0 revolution is gathering steam. Firewire connectivity is an alternative for some of these devices or can be used in conjunction with USB. Firewire 400 ports have been in use for several years and come as a four and a six-pin port. The latter uses the extra pins to provide DC voltage to power some outboard equipment which will otherwise otherwise need an external power supply to use it. While Firewire 800 is still standard on Macs it has stopped being issued on PC motherboards so if you need it, you’ll have to add an expansion PCI or PCIe card that has it. The other new kid on the block is Intel’s Thunderbolt, it can shuffle data in and out of your computer at 10 times the speed of Firewire 800 so like USB 3.0 it’s going to be handy to have. Okay, are you getting confused already? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s bad enough having the different protocols. Dealing with different types of the same protocols like Firewire 400 or 800, USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 will just give you
Apple MacPro: Space for multiple hard drives and more RAM than you can shake a (128GB memory) stick at.
our computer is the most important Y and most complex bit of kit in your studio, so it’s important to get the right one.
e recommend two alternatives: W a ‘made for music’ PC or an Apple computer. Ask your music store for the details of someone who builds music PCs; while Apple computers can be bought off the shelf.
The big focus for computers these days is increasingly becoming ‘multitasking’ … That’s fine, but don’t multitask when you want to record some music!
J ust to reiterate, an off-the-shelf ‘package’ computer won’t cut it — neither will gaming soundcards as an audio interface. ou’ll probably find the choice of Y motherboards, CPUs and RAM utterly bewildering — always get expert advice.
basic requirement will be plenty of A USB ports including some USB 3.0. a headache. But hang in there and do some homework. The main thing is to future-proof your new PC as much as you can. You’ll be glad you did. A good video card is important, especially if you’re hoping to work with any kind of film scoring and have to run a video window at the same time. Besides, any weak link in your system can hamper the speed of the rest of your computer’s components, creating data bottlenecks and, as a result, glitches in the audio signal, so it makes sense not to skimp on the video card. However, it doesn’t mean you should get something that gives you high-definition warts on the spooks in World of Warcraft. You can give your budget a bit of breathing space and buy something moderate like a 512MB card. It’s worth pointing out that a lot of motherboards have good in-built video processors on them. If you’re definitely not interested in hard-core gaming or video editing, the onboard video on these motherboards will cover the bases for audio (and you can always buy a video card later if you need to start scoring for film, video editing or gaming). Soundcards... well, now we’re getting serious, because a good soundcard (otherwise known as an audio interface) is at the heart of any DAW. Your choices range from simpler units of just two inputs and outputs right through to multi-connecting professional interfaces. We’ll deal with all of these in more detail in a separate chapter along with other dedicated bits of hardware gear you should have that will make for a great DAW. But listen up, there’s something you must get your head around and avoid a common misconception. The standard type of minijack-based audio interface that comes with many computer motherboards won’t do the job. Neither will many of the upmarket gamer soundcards. In particular, don’t mistake the 5.1 “Surround Sound” hype as having much to do with serious 5.1 audio. No one’s disputing onboard sound has its place, but they are not designed for DAW work and the accompanying cheapo soundcard utility software, in particular, can drive you crazy. That’s because the software is trying to add effects and change things to enhance the gaming experience. You want to record audio nice and clean, not there is no need for booming explosions, whizzing arrows and snapping bullets.
Tweaks & Tune Ups The big focus for computers these days is increasingly becoming ‘multi-tasking’. All at the same time you want to be able to check your emails, monitor for viruses, write a thesis on modern theology and keep track of a bargain on eBay. That’s fine, That’s fine, but don’t multitask when you want to record some music! DAW applications like to have your system’s resources all to themselves and don’t even care that the computer is still expecting to run Windows or a Mac OS as well, along with a lot of so-called services that Microsoft and Apple feel you just can’t survive without. So although you might think everything else has been turned off, computers usually have some sneaky little functions working in the background that can get in the way. Some are not easy to turn off and can interfere with your DAW at the worst possible time. You might be playing the lead solo of your life just as the screen saver cuts in and trashes everything. A lot of performance fixes are about turning off these unnecessary “background” programs. Be warned! Before you turn anything off make sure you know exactly what you’re doing. If you’re unsure, find out. A good practise is to turn things off one at a time, then if stuff goes crazy you’ll know why. Soundcard Specifics There will also be certain settings you need to configure that are specific to either your music software or your separate audio interface. Most soundcards and interfaces come with device drivers that install virtual mixers and control panels on your computer. These have settings that are very important and in some cases can automatically be changed by your DAW application as you make choices for each project. For example, start a recording session in Cubase and it will try and set your audio card parameters to suit. However, some programs and soundcard device drivers don’t communicate with each other so readily and you might have to check that your driver settings are matching your project setup via the software audio preference pane. Otherwise, things won’t go as smoothly as they can. We’ll look at these settings more closely in Chapter Five, which is about getting started with your first serious recordings and putting everything in place for a trouble-free session.
ou can apply ‘tweaks’ to a computer Y operating system to turn off unwanted applications and services running in the background. read carefully! Your decisions here, T with the choice of computer, operating system, and soundcard will be ones you’re likely to live with for a long time. So get it right.
LAPTOP V DESKTOP
Wait a second before you read on–have you read the whole chapter? Because if you have then you’ll figure out already that laptops can’t have a lot of the things we’ve recommended for the best, troublefree DAW setup. Extra hard-drives, more slots for RAM, heaps of USB or Firewire slots... laptops come as they are, you can’t add stuff. Laptop computers are pretty powerful now and they come with large screens, large hard drives and hoards of RAM. It’s tempting to make for yourself a kind of portable DAW–and why not? Well you can, but making a lappy work as well as a desktop computer will be tricky and cost you a hell of a lot more money. Laptop RAM is more expensive because it’s compact and getting a fast hard drive (laptops are generally 5400rpm or, if you’re lucky 7200) will cost extra bucks, too. It’s worth knowing that budget laptops get their price down by using outdated and cheap components. DAWs hate that. And you’ll end up plugging in so many peripherals such as a mouse, your audio interface and an external drive that your ‘portable’ setup looks like a mobile phone dropped in a pot of spaghetti and meatballs. So the theory is good, but in practise a laptop-based DAW can be more trouble and money, than it’s worth. Think carefully, before you go down this path. And by the way–yeah, we’re sure too that someone one day will claim the latest hit song was written and recorded entirely on their iPhone using a free app’ they downloaded. They’ll get their fifteen minutes of fame on the internet. All we can say is that anyone can dig a hole with a teaspoon, if they really want. We recommend a proper shovel or, if you can afford it, a mini-escavator!
Don’t argue. Get a proper audio interface. GG :: 7
MIDI sound sources sound fantastic and some have even become ‘classic’: the likes of Roland, Korg, Yamaha and Nord make great synthesisers that can be ‘played’ by your DAW via the MIDI protocol.
MIDI — All Talk, No Audio The most critical point to understand here is: MIDI isn’t audio. MIDI is a binary language designed to instruct noise-making equipment/software what to do, like what to play, how and when — MIDI doesn’t actually make the sound itself. Think of it this way: the sound quality is dependent entirely on the instrument receiving the MIDI data. It’s kind of like a sophisticated On/Off button that ‘triggers’ the software or hardware sound module to play the sound you have selected within it.
MIDI — where it all started MIDI is amazing. It’s a very powerful tool in the right hands and MIDI is the protocol (or digital language) behind the control of nearly every piece of good studio software and hardware. MIDI has been around for about 25 years , so it’s not some brand new, whiz-bang innovation. You’ll hear some people bitch about it, but without MIDI life in the studio wouldn’t be as nearly as productive or fun. Embrace MIDI and it’ll love you back. Your DAW will be the heart of your MIDI setup. In fact, that’s how programs like Logic and Cubase got their start — as MIDI ‘sequencers’. The sequencing aspects of your DAW will allow you to trigger and control your software instruments, samplers and drum machines. Any and every parameter of these sound sources can be controlled and automated with MIDI — pitch, filter sweeps, LFOs, drawbars — every nuance… a whole world of sophisticated editing and control is possible in the MIDI pages of your DAW. Not only that, there are a number of hardware MIDI controllers that open up a whole new world of music-making possibilities like the standard MIDI keyboard, through to crazy stuff like MIDI guitars, breath controllers and drum pads. Some external
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For a while, MIDI sequencers and external sound sources ruled the world of computer music, because the computers didn’t have the CPU grunt or hard drive space to handle soft samplers or the storage of those samples. Now with the advent of large hard drives and super powerful CPUs, sound modules and samplers can reside ‘in the computer’. With your modern DAW the principle behind MIDI is still the same in that you’re still working with a sequencer for your MIDI tracks, just the level of editing capabilities has progressed enormously to complement the audio capability built around it. MIDI can also control things like volume, panning and automatic program changes and it’s the controller side of MIDI that has taken it beyond just the humble trigger device it once was. MIDI is not without its problems (latency, being the main one — ie. the time it takes between the program telling the synth to play a note and it actually doing it) but it’s the preferred protocol for communicating between all kinds of devices including the control surfaces mentioned in Chapter 3. MIDI — Let’s Get Technical A single MIDI connection provides 16 separate channels (or ‘voices’–or types of sounds). There’s nothing stopping you from using any instrument more than once as long as it has its own channel — for instance, you might like to have two or even three different pianos playing their own melodies. The MIDI Channel Assignment is the vital parameter to make sure that whatever instrument you want heard on that track is played only by its own data track and not one of the others as well. Depending on what you’re using as your MIDI sound source, such as a hardware synthesizer or soft-synth, you might have to set the ‘receive’ channel on that device to correspond with the sequencer. Most modern external synths will automatically figure it out for themselves, but some of the older keyboards will need some tinkering. As always, things are changing and many devices are now using a USB port and a software driver to emulate a MIDI cable. Otherwise, standard MIDI connections come in three flavours: ‘In’, ‘Out’ and ‘Thru’ (see the pic opposite). The first two are obvious, while Thru is a connection that repeats the MIDI signal input to the next device — a signal
Old Gear, Old Specs If you’ve got yourself a bargain or a classic synth from the secondhand store, chances are it may only pack ‘16-voice polyphony’, which was standard back in the Dark Ages of MIDI in the early/mid ‘80s. It will only play a maximum of 16 keys at once — actual notes remember, not different instruments. Sixteen seemed a lot and nobody thought they’d ever have a problem, but this was when 32MB of RAM in your computer was out of this world, too.
unaffected by that keyboard. Thru is like a direct line through that keyboard untouched to the next and it allows you to daisy chain MIDI instruments in the studio — by connecting one instrument to the next with MIDI cable. Sound Modules What’s a sound module? Well, it didn’t take long for keyboard manufacturers to figure out that if musicians wanted multiple synths piled around them for layered sounds, they wouldn’t necessarily need those confusing black-andwhite key things on every one. The whole idea, after all, was to only have to play one keyboard… not six. So they started releasing sound modules, which were basically keyboards without the keys! Some that were hybrids of workstations also missed out on all the programming ability. Put simply — and to state the bleeding obvious, I guess — sound modules are boxes filled with sounds.
MIDI Limitations One of MIDI’s limitations you need to be aware of isn’t in the protocol itself or how much you can program it, but in the polyphonic and voice capability of the instrument you’re playing. ‘Polyphony’ is the number of notes that can be played at exactly the same time, before your virtual instrument or module runs out of legs. Now, 64-note polyphony is generally the bare minimum and it’s hard to imagine how anyone would need more than 64 simultaneous notes, but a complex musical arrangement over many tracks certainly comes close. Polyphony limitations extend across all the sounds you’re using in the one ‘module’, such as in the one external keyboard or one virtual instrument in your DAW. It’s about notes, not sounds — meaning that a crescendo during a classical piece with the full, virtual orchestra going for broke might stretch your resources, if they’re all accessing sounds from a single instrument like, say, IK Multimedia’s SampleTank 2. Beware of sounds that have a lengthy decay time —they’re still using up polyphony long after your fingers have moved on. So if you hear your MIDI arrangement missing things or sounds being abruptly cut out, check it’s not the sound module or software instrument running out of polyphony. Some virtual instruments like Native
Stay out of Jail
And the courthouse, too. Even though any MIDI file of someone’s song is far removed from the original tune, copyright laws can still apply. Don’t assume, because you’re using a MIDI version of any music, that copyright laws don’t matter. Think websites,YouTube and blog sites here. It’s easy to forget, when you’re uploading something clever, you’re maybe illegally using someone else’s music.
a whole world of sophisticated editing and control is possible in the MIDI pages of your DAW. ”
MIDI Connections: Traditional MIDI cables use five pins — you can’t miss them. Some manufacturers don’t provide the Thru connection. Quite often you’ll now find MIDI is transmitted via USB.
When too many knobs is barely enough — even still, every knob can be remotely manipulated and/or recorded with your DAW via MIDI.
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MIDI Out normally refers to the audio interface connected to your PC and its five-pin MIDI Out connector, meaning your MIDI data output is being sent to this port. It might be “MBox2 MIDI” or “MAudio FW410 MIDI”. You can rename it like it is here to “Hardware MIDI Out”. If you’re sending the track’s MIDI data to a Virtual Instrument like Kontakt then that is what will appear in this section. Maybe “Kontakt Channel 1” or “Kontakt Piano”... it depends on the DAW and the Virtual Instrument.
MIDI Out Channels. Here are two Track Inspectors for Cubase (right) and Sonar (left). The MIDI Out selection on Cubase is highlighted and the drop-down box is shown for Sonar.
Instruments’ Battery 3 have a ‘Steal Mode’, which lets you choose which notes get turned off if you do get into trouble (such as the ‘Last’, ‘First’, ‘Loudest’ or ‘Softest’ note, for example). Check to see if your setup or options gives you something like this.
MIDI Authors MIDI files are rarely more than 100kB, which is pretty incywincy. They get shared around the Internet a lot and plenty of sites offer thousands of downloads. Some sites are fussy about their content and can have a reliable quality, but if you find an excellent MIDI file it’s better to make a note of the author. Good MIDI programmers can’t stop themselves and take pride in doing things right. But they’re few and far between.
Daisy Chaining There’s something else worth knowing about MIDI, although this is kind of ‘expert’ at this point — so grab your propeller cap. MIDI data is transmitted in ‘serial’ format. If you have four keyboards, for example, hooked up in a daisy chain style, then the data passes through each instrument and on to the last in a line and, in fact, the last keyboard will get the sequenced programming later than the first — and the second or third. Again, depending on the instrument itself, there’s a chance that by the time any of the keyboards in the signal path have processed the MIDI for themselves and sent it on, you’ll hear an audible delay in the fourth instrument playing its sound. It might be tiny, but if you’re dead fussy about getting things in sync it can be the kind of thing that’ll have you scratching your head trying to figure out what’s going wrong. The answer is to use a MIDI splitter or multiple connector so that each device is connected directly and simultaneously, rather than in a daisy chain. Last, and definitely not least, remember that all MIDI programming is only as good as its programmer. There’s a million MIDI websites out there offering every song ever written as a MIDI file download. Some of them are good. Some of them are really
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bad. Some of them are too ambitious. Like, an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo will never, ever sound realistic programmed and played back via MIDI. Never. Ever. Aside from the musical side of things, many MIDI files can include — deliberately or not — a lot of controller information that will also drive you nuts. Program and Volume commands are common, so that no matter how you try to change anything, the original settings keep coming back whenever you play the file again. In Chapter 12 we’ll show you how to fix this along with lots of other tips and tricks to MIDI editing. Then in Chapter 14 we’ll deal with soft synths and samplers which is where some of your best MIDI programming will end up. MIDI: Maxi Possibilities MIDI’s ability to alter and massage sounds ‘after the fact’ (after a performance has been recorded in a sequencer) and the ease in which you can audition new sounds, makes it a very powerful and flexible studio tool. In fact, for many electronica genres there’s no other way of achieving the right sound and the sonic complexity/ density without MIDI. The musical ‘technicians’ amongst us will relish the hours spent fine tuning and programming MIDI — it can be extremely rewarding; while those more into the immediacy of performing will get a kick out of the sonic possibilities offered by MIDI. Are you a guitarist using a programmable effects pedal board? A singer with a switchable vocal effects pedal? Folks, it’s all MIDI, not magic.
General MIDI (GM)
General MIDI was designed as a means of being able to share MIDI files and have them sound the same regardless of the MIDI sound source. When I say “sound the same” I mean a piano channel is always a piano channel, strings are strings and so on. If you download a MIDI file off the net, chances are it’s written for a simple GM synth. Listen to it using Windows Media Player or Quicktime and things will sound very cheesy. Use one of the keyboard workstations mentioned elsewhere on this page and things should dramatically improve. Your soft synths will probably have a GM Bank to use, but these won’t necessarily be the best sounds it has available. You can tweak things and again get much better results — always depending on the programming quality, of course.
Not to be confused with Digital Audio Workstations like the ones we’re learning about in this guide, some keyboard manufacturers produce synthesizers that are also called ‘workstations’. This is because they have built-in MIDI sequencing. The current crop (like the Korg Kronos pictured above) are very sophisticated and allow you to record and edit any, or all, of your songs. Great for self-contained muso’s who can take their own arrangements with them without having to connect a laptop.
Summary IDI (Musical Instrument M Digital Interface) is a digital language or protocol for interconnecting all kinds of electronic instruments. o begin to understand MIDI T you need to understand one thing: it’s not audio, it’s control data telling the sound source what to do. he sound of MIDI programT ming depends on two things: firstly, the quality of the sound source receiving the data and, secondly, how well it was programmed. I f your musical genre of choice is based on synths, loops and samples then MIDI will be your thing — embrace it, love it… it’ll be your best friend.
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Over the next few chapters we’re going to be looking at many features of your DAW that depend on correctly routing a signal path. A simple example is the microphone you’ve got plugged into your audio interface — that’s a signal path. Back in the old days when an audio engineer was preparing for a recording session signal paths involved correctly plugging a lot of stuff in. A mess of cables ran everywhere.
The Track List
These days, that rat’s nest of cables is virtual — the signal is being moved around digitally inside your DAW. Virtual or not, DAWs direct and divert signals from one part of your software to another as though you’d plugged in a real cable yourself. Bear this in mind as we look at how channel strips, track inspectors and mixers can control your recordings.
Audio Channels Here we have three different channels as they’re shown in the Arrange Window. They’re all different, but not by much. Don’t forget, these are audio channels, not MIDI, and these are not a channel strip from the Mixer View although some DAWs will show you exactly the same information in a Track Inspector as their mixer strips. You’ll find some big differences between the various software products as to how they display these channels. Still, the terminology is pretty much the same across the board and you should be able to easily figure out how the explanations below relate to your own software. There might be a drop-down menu somewhere, too, which lets you configure what controls are shown. Most likely, you can choose what settings are visible. 1. Track Name: This is more important than you might think. It’s not just about putting the name of your instrument on the mixer, it’s about naming your track before you do anything, because your DAW will use it as a reference for naming any audio files recorded on that lane or track. So in these examples the software will call your recorded files something like ‘Vocal Take (1)’ and ‘Vocal Take (2)’ and so on. If you don’t name your track first, the software will use a default name, usually ‘Audio (track number)’ and what happens is that later, as you search through your Pool filled with files called ‘Audio 1 Take (1)’ or ‘Audio 1 Take (2)’, you’ve got little idea of what you’re working with. Obviously, naming your audio files correctly is very important, but naming your channel strip first is a great way to make that more of an automatic thing.
Propellerhead’s Reason software pioneered the ‘virtual modular’ approach to sound creation. ’Round the ‘back’ of Reason you can patch (or ‘connect’) different modules together with virtual patch cords (they even sway and dangle when you pull them out!). It’s a great way of visualising what’s going on — how the audio gets piped around, control signal movement etc. Of course, back in ‘the day’ all this happened with real leads and heavy hardware, but now it’s all within your computer.
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2. Trim or Gain Setting: A lot of people get this confused with the volume setting, or don’t understand the difference at all. Try this as a way of thinking about it: as a rule of thumb you want all the tracks in your project to be roughly the same volume before you do anything with them — like, before you do any mixing or adding effects, for instance. Here’s an example: You’ve got two singers in your studio doing backing vocals, one male and the other female. They’re an “item”, right? The guy has an excellent strong voice while the girl isn’t such a strong performer, but she’s his girlfriend and no one dares to say too much — so she still gets the gig. If you don’t make any allowances during the recording the female vocal ends up at a much lower volume. Okay, so to bring the girl’s track up to the level of her partner during playback you would use the Trim control. It’s a way of adjusting everything up or down to the same level at the very first input stage and having all your tracks on a par with each other. Another comparison would be a synthesiser and an acoustic guitar — they would have vastly different signal levels if it wasn’t for the trim control. Note: we say on playback, because on most DAWs the Trim/ Gain setting won’t affect your recording levels. Only playback. 3. Input: If you have a soundcard with multiple inputs, this is where you choose which one you’re , physically plugged into. Simple really, except for one
Cubase track inspector
small trap. If you have a stereo input as a default and want to only record in mono, some DAWs will assign every odd-numbered track to the Left Input and all the even-numbered tracks to the Right Input. So when you do a recording and create a new track to add a different melody, then can’t figure out why nothing’s working anymore, chances are the default mono input for that track is the other stereo side. It’s easily fixed with the click of a button or with some soundcards you might have to plug into the other input. But it’s one of those weird little quirks that might have you swapping guitars, resoldering leads and finally moving your entire studio two metres to the left… before you eventually figure out what’s wrong.
Audio Channel Track Lists: Here are three DAW channels as seen in the Track List. Look closely and you’ll see many similarities. Nobody’s trying to re-invent the wheel here.
4. Equalizers: The word ‘equalizer’ is a funny term. Originally, equalizers were used to equalize any poor tonal qualities in a PA system or in the acoustics of a room — get rid of any nasty frequencies or boost missing ones. Nowadays, they’re very much a creative means of adjusting tones, but the name ‘equalizer’ (or EQ for short) has stuck. EQ’s can work in lots of different ways — high-shelf, low-shelf, high-pass... (there’s more info in a box item next page) they can make an enormous impact on your music if you use them wisely. It’s well worth taking the time to understand them and it’s why DAWs have them available both in the Track Inspector and the Mixer View. You just never know when you’ll want to tweak a frequency or two.
DAWs direct and divert signals from one part of your software to another as though you’d plugged in a real cable yourself ”
Recording Levels This is something that will be repeated time and time again in this guide, but you’ll just have to cop it! Record something well and everything else will be much easier. Achieving the best quality, clarity and correct amplitude (volume) of a recording takes a bit of thought and practice, and getting good recording levels is very important. This is explained in Chapter 11. The point is, features like Trim or Gain settings can right a lot of wrongs and get you out of trouble, but nothing beats good levels in the first place.
5. Sends (Auxiliary Sends or Effects Sends): As you build up a mix you’ll want to put Effects, like delay or reverb, on many of your tracks — the main vocal, for example. One way to do this is to Insert an effect over a channel (see Inserts below), but this can be a waste of CPU power if you want to put the same effect over more than one channel. Every plugin you power up will take its share of resources. Let’s say you have five vocal tracks and you want the same reverb over all of them — generally a desirable thing to do. Instead of Inserting a separate reverb plug-in over each track, you can create a single Effects Return, insert one reverb plug-in over that and feed its signal from an Auxiliary Send on the five vocal channels. See? You’ve just used one instance of a reverb instead of five! Sends are not necessarily for effects, too. In a live situation Sends are used for foldback — the musicians hearing themselves on stage without interfering with the Front of House mix. Another example: a Send might be used to feed a live television broadcast. The name can simplify the explanation, if you like. It sends your channel signal somewhere else for you to do with as you will. It’s like splitting your television antennae to a second TV in another room. Sends can be Pre-Fade or Post-Fade. With Pre-Fade, the level of signal from the Send isn’t affected by the volume of the channel fader. This works for headphone feeds in a studio, because no matter what the sound engineer does with the channels in the mix they’re not going to upset the musician by
changing volume levels in their headphones (they can get really upset). With Post-Fade the channel fader volume does alter the amount of signal coming from the Auxiliary Send. This is good for effects like reverb, because if the vocal or instrument is too loud in the mix and the engineer turns it down, the level of reverb is lowered, too. Here’s a very practical application — even if it’s generally a live audio situation: when you’re running backing tracks or a dance track from a CD and you’re asked to fade out the music before the song ends, with Post Fade switched in, the foldback on stage will also fade out with your main PA (rather than blasting away while the house PA is turned down). Make sense? Experiment with an Auxiliary send and switch the Pre or Post-Fade in and out as you change the channel fader and you’ll get the idea. 6. Inserts: These are how you Insert an effect or a plug-in such as a compressor on a channel and the advantage to this approach is only that channel is affected. It’s an individual treatment for one channel — either stereo or mono depending on the effect or track it is inserted on. More importantly, whatever plug-in is Inserted, it becomes completely integrated into the signal path for that track — it’s merged into the channel and how that can affect the overall sound needs to be realised. It’s serious stuff. You can dramatically alter the entire sound of a recording with an Insert(s). Guitar amplifier simulators, for example, will change a clean guitar into whatever you like — but while that might be exactly what you’re after, you should remember that you’re sacrificing access to that original, clean recording. Inserts work brilliantly when you use them how they’re supposed to be used. Signal modifiers like compressors and EQs are great Inserted over a channel — and we should point out that, yes, a DAW channel’s own proprietary Equalizer (see above) is (just to set the record straight) Inserted. The hardest aspect of Inserts is probably understanding what can or can’t, or what should or shouldn’t, be inserted. It can be confusing. With DAWs you can Insert more than one effect over a channel — something that would require a bit of thought and some nifty daisychain cabling on a hardware mixer. The order in which you Insert things will change the resulting sounds. A good rule of thumb is: compressors, gates, and EQ are inserted; while reverb, delay and other effects are generally better off on an auxiliary — there are no hard and fast rules, however. 7. MSR & Icons: MSR is an acronym for Mute, Solo, Record, but it usually refers to more icon buttons than these. All channel strips have a group of buttons for quick selections. Some DAWs use symbols instead of plain labelling, so you might have to do a bit of deciphering. A Mute silences the channel altogether. ‘Solo’ turns on that channel exclusively — rather than muting everything else. ‘Record’ arms the channel for recording — a safety device. ‘Phase Invert’ comes into play when you’re mixing down. You can ‘flip’ the phase of a channel to help it sit in the mix better. (Changing the Phase of a
Different File Names The various DAWs use different, though similar, conventions for naming audio files. They may use a combination of the Project name (which might not be the song title — that’s your choice) the Track name, and what number Take it is. So your third attempt at a bass line for a song called ‘My Greatest Hit’ will make a file called something like ‘My Greatest Hit_Bass_ Take(3).wav’. This can be useful, because at a glance you see where the file belongs from its title, but a lot of engineers get annoyed at the long-winded label. Some programs assume you know which folder or Pool the file should be in and will just call it ‘Bass 03.wav’ or ‘Bass (Take 3).wav’. Much cleaner and simpler, but you can see the potential for disaster if a virus trashes your computer and you end up having to sort through your archives. You may end up asking, ‘Yeah, it’s a bass recording… but for what song?’. Take careful note of how your DAW labels audio files and don’t be too hasty renaming them.
Sonar Project Folder. This is the Project Audio folder for Cakewalk’s Sonar. Note how the audio files are named with all the information you need to identify the file’s origins even outside of Sonar, such as in Windows Explorer. It’s handy, sensible and clever — but some users just get kind of annoyed by the long and unnecessarily complicated file names.
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“ IDI Channel Strips: Some different M MIDI channels for comparison. Nothing radically dissimilar — and, again, Cubase (bottom) needs the Track Inspector opened to access all the settings.
Some DAWs use symbols instead of plain labelling, so you might have to do a bit of deciphering ” track won’t make it sound much different by itself — if at all. It’s how it interacts with other channels.)
And like Audio channels there will be a menu to let you customise just what you want available.
You’ll also have two Automation buttons for Read and Write. ‘Read’ means that any automation you have on the track will be obeyed — turn it off and it’s ignored. ‘Write’ lets you record automation on-the-fly. Things like fader moves and panning effects are common, but just about anything can be automated. The Panning slider adjusts your mono track’s position in the left/right spectrum or a stereo track’s left/right balance. There might be a Stereo/ Mono button that defines whether the track is — you guessed it — stereo or mono. Once you’ve made a recording this usually can’t be changed. So if you accidentally start, say, a bass guitar track in stereo and want to change it to mono, you’ll have to go through some complicated hoops or bounce the track. Sometimes it’s better to delete that channel.
1. Track Name: Like with audio tracks anything recorded will automatically have the track name applied to any MIDI clips. The connection between the track name and the patch you’re playing isn’t so strong. Under most circumstances altering the patch (the MIDI sound) won’t result in the track name reflecting that change — for example, if you apply a MIDI Grand Piano sound to it and later decide the programming works better with an Electric Piano, altering the patch won’t flow through to the Track name. Exceptions are some Instrument Tracks where you choose the patch with a browser instead of inside the virtual instrument itself. Check out the box item on the next page.
A very important button is the ‘Monitor’ or ‘Input Echo’ button. This allows you to hear what you’re recording in real-time through your soundcard and will be subject to any latency your audio driver and hardware setup causes. Without a mixing desk to monitor your playing or singing this is the only way you can hear yourself (unless your soundcard has ‘direct monitoring’ capabilities). Turn it on and you can listen to your recording as you play it. If you’re using speakers rather than headphones and have a live microphone, be careful when you switch this on because a live mic at high gain can create ear shredding feedback. By the way, this simple button is going to reveal just how well you made all those choices about your computer setup, your soundcard and the software drivers. Some software doesn’t offer this button. Instead, you’ll have a global function inside your Preferences that defines how your monitoring works when you arm a track for recording.
Cubase track inspector
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2. Input (Device): You can choose which MIDI device you want for an input, which is usually your soundcard interface. If you have more than one device, such as a piano and a drum pad, you’ll need to pick the right one. Possibly, if your computer has some kind of generic MIDI ability or there’s a soundcard included with your motherboard devices, these will also be available. When you set up your DAW software you can choose which MIDI drivers to recognise and get rid of all these unnecessary options. 3. Output (Channel): Possibly your MIDI device has a specific channel assigned for its output, especially if you do have more than one instrument, so you’ll have to choose the channel from 1 to 16 to suit. Otherwise, the ‘Omni’ setting, which is any or all channels, will always work.
8.Output: Like input, this is fairly simple… you’d think. But it will give you a choice of any hardware outputs (as many as your soundcard allows) and possibly a selection of soundcards, because any motherboard audio output your computer came with (apart from your DAW interface) will be listed, too (unless you turn off onboard sound via your BIOS). It will show any software outputs. These are output busses you’ve created yourself. We’ll explain them in the next chapter, the Mixer View.
4. Patch: This is a part of your Output settings. ‘Patch’ in MIDI lingo means which instrument, like a piano or organ — the sound you want. What patch you call up depends on whether you’re using General MIDI and on the complexity of the software driver for your MIDI device. Expanding the Patch will give you the choice of instruments for that device, or a Virtual Instrument. It’s easy to get confused though, because often the GM set of instruments will appear regardless of what is actually attached, either real or virtual. Like, the default patch list is the General MIDI list every time. Don’t assume that by simply checking ‘Flute’ in the Patch box that you’re going to get a flute sound. You’ll need to look harder and make sure your signal path is going to the right place.
MIDI Channels Audio and MIDI channels are like chalk and cheese — entirely different things. Still, some of the settings and icons on the MIDI channel strips are the same and perform the same function. The MSR and Automation buttons, for example, are duplicated in both; Volume and Panning too, but note that in some cases these use values between 0 and 127 because they’re based on binary bits and bytes values. Panning can be ±64 (half of 128 with 0 being centre), while some DAWs use a percentage value for panning instead.
5. Bank: If the Patch settings are working properly (thanks to a good software driver), chances are you’ve also got a choice of which Bank, too. Banks are sub-menus in your instrument settings. For example, Bank 0 is your standard GM instruments. Bank 1 will give you a different set of sounds as will Bank 3, and so on. If there are no extra Banks available you can possibly still pick a number, but the Instrument Patch will go blank, of course. Your software is allowing for the existence of extra Banks, but doesn’t recognise there aren’t any to acknowledge.
Otherwise, here is a brief description of the Track List settings you’ll find on a MIDI channel. Some of these might not appear in the Track Inspector, but are on the channel for the Track Pane. Things like the Scale setting are used so infrequently or only once that it’s not worth cluttering the Track Inspector with them.
6. Output: This is where you choose a real hardware MIDI output, possibly corresponding to the Input devices, or you might want a Virtual Instrument such as Native Instrument’s Battery 3 or IK Multimedia’s SampleTank 2. DAWs see these virtual instruments as if they are real hardware. They pretend there’s a
EQ Types The kitchen sink EQ for musicians and engineers has 31 bands, or frequencies, that can be boosted or cut by 12dB. The hardware versions were called ‘Graphic Equalisers’ because the sliders could make neat patterns, like a graph. On a channel strip for a DAW you’ll more likely use a combination of parametric EQs and high or low shelf settings. We say ‘most likely’, because you can choose for yourself how each frequency band of adjustment works. Parametrics are very, very neat and do some powerful magic. They’re fully explained in Chapter 20. DAWs and third-party plug-ins will offer three, four or even more separate bands to use. At first glance these EQs can be daunting. Don’t be scared, and use your ears.
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VST, AU, AAX, RTAS & MAS… Huh?
Steinberg, the developers of Cubase, got the jump on a lot of its competition by developing Virtual Studio Technology or ‘VST’. VSTs can be effects plug-ins, such as delays, reverbs, choruses and the like, and the acronym is also used to describe virtual instruments (VSTi) like pianos, drums... you name it. VST is probably
best thought of as a programming format — a computer language for creating these plug-ins and instruments. There are a few other kids on the block now. Audio Unit (AU) is an Apple Logic format and RTAS/ AAX is the equivalent for ProTools… Oh, and MOTU’s Digital Performer also has a version, called MAS.
real piano keyboard or drum kit at the end of the signal path. So they’re treated as an Output. 7. Effects: MIDI tracks can use a variety of effects, but they’re more a way of altering the data inside the clips. Things like arpeggiators, transposers and velocity ‘filters’ that change the note values, not the sounds — although GM settings provide a chorus and reverb effect and these can be available as parameters on your channel strip. Don’t be fooled, though. In the same way that Audio and MIDI channels are completely different, likewise Audio and MIDI effects are worlds apart and have nothing to do with each other. Don’t get them mixed up. Also important, MIDI effects are an effect after the data is processed. They don’t shift or change the data itself. 8. Key & Time sliders: General MIDI includes the ability to transpose the key of your MIDI up or down in semi-tones without having to re-record your playing. It’s a great way to shift the key signature of an instrument to find what’s best for a vocalist, before going any further with your recordings. The Time slider is for advancing or retarding the track slightly. It can make some nice effects in a mix down or let you compensate for any delay in an external device’s playback. 9. Scale (& Scale Settings): This is one of those settings that untalented musicians love! Some DAWs allow a ‘Snap to Scale’ function, which will reject and correct any notes you try to play that don’t belong in your chosen musical scale. So if your song is in D Major, Snap to Scale will fix any wrong notes your inexpert fumbling might hit. MIDI is filled with advanced features
ubase Short Track C Heights: When you try to see as many tracks as you can in one window you lose a lot of the Track List information. This is where the Track Inspector helps a lot.
All up, it’s a bit like the Playstation vs XBox vs Wii. Some DAWs will load and play either format, but it’s more the virtual instruments themselves that are designed from the ground up to work in one or the other environment. Most developers release their plug-ins in multiple formats. You can also get ‘wrappers’
that convert VSTs to RTAS and AU. There are hundreds of virtual instruments and effects plug-ins available these days. Some are free, some are cheap, and some are expensive (and deservedly so). If you decide to get any make sure you check which format — VST, AU, AAX, RTAS or MAS — your DAW prefers.
like this, but to start with, the Track needs to know the basic key with this setting. If you don’t know the key or you’re not interested in these types of functions, this setting won’t make any difference. It only comes into play when you use editing functions that rely on knowing the right key signature. 10. Input Quantize: Another great MIDI feature explained in Chapter 10. Some DAWs will automatically apply a quantize setting to your input — your playing. This button turns it on or off and lets you set the quantize values. Inspector Gadgets So it might seem a bit pointless that all these parameters and settings are duplicated everywhere, particular in the Track List beside the Arrange Pane and the Track Inspector. The reason is simple. Have a look at Cubase below and notice that the Arrange Pane is zoomed out enough to be able to see all 16 tracks in the project. You’ll work like this a lot. But to achieve it, the height of each track has been reduced so much that the Track Lists hardly show anything except the name and the MSR icons. Without the Track Inspector, if you want to make any adjustments you’d have to ‘grab’ the edges of the track, expand it so the settings you want appear... you get the idea. Instead, just select the track and make the changes in the Track Inspector. Obviously, someone’s been giving this whole DAW thing a bit of thought, right?
Instrument Tracks DAWs give you ‘Instrument Tracks’ which are MIDI tracks that have a virtual instrument directly inserted over them rather than using a separate rack for software synths and routing individual MIDI tracks to them... confused? Chapter 14 gives you all the nittygritty. The point here is that Apple’s Logic, for example, offers a patch browser to pick your sounds that will open the appropriate software synth for you. It’s kind of backwards to the way things have been done before. Anyway, if you always use the browser instead of changing patches inside the synth, then the MIDI track name will also automatically change. ProTools connects MIDI channels and virtual instruments a little differently. Instead of using a virtual rack for the instrument, you create an Instrument Track much like other DAWs offer and you send the output of individual MIDI channels to that Instrument Track with the appropriate channel number selected.
Summary Customising the different workspaces of the Track List, the Track Inspectors and the Mixer View will help to stop you getting confused by the repetition of settings for each track. lot of parameters A will either be setand-forget or will be automatically dealt with by your software drivers. The best idea is to familiarise yourself with those settings that do need constant and logical attention such as the Track Name and you’ll discover there’s not so many to stress over.
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Recording Audio CH 11
Recording is all about breaking rules, happy accidents, trying stuff, testing boundaries and doing something new. But you can’t do all that without getting the basics right. Experts — who’ve all broken every rule in the book and are famous for doing so — all agree that you’re nowhere without getting the sound right at the ‘source’. Everyone who’s been around studios a while has a horror story about how they didn’t ‘get it right at the source’. Here’s an example: You set out to record a bunch of songs for an album (let’s say 10) and you have a limited timeframe to complete them in. Instead of taking your time to get the sounds right because you are a bit rushed, you decide to let a few things slide with a view to ‘fixing it in the mix’. This is an old saying that describes a fix it later approach that — with audio — invariably doesn’t work. What happens is that instead of getting the sound of four or five songs to your liking, you end up with 10 songs that suffer demo-itis at best or are bin-able at worst. Strong Foundations So the golden rule of music production is to make sure the individual tracks are put down properly in the first place. The idea that you can ‘fix it in the mix’ will only lead you to tears and heavy drinking. If you have one moment of poor playing or a technical glitch in a recording, whenever you’re listening to that song I guarantee that’s all you’ll ever hear. It can drive you nuts. So spend the extra time it takes to get it right.
digital input meter A running just nicely, thank you. A slight orange tinge is hinting that clipping isn’t far away. Like traffic lights, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop. But don’t put your foot down.
he same meter T running into the red — bad news. Don’t even think about doing this at home, folks.
In this chapter we’ll look at a straightforward setup of you, the DAW operator, recording a vocalist through a microphone plugged into your soundcard — one that has a built-in pre-amplifier. Something like a Presonus FirePod or a Digidesign MBox. If you have a small mixing desk or pre-amp in between that’s fine, it doesn’t really change our approach here. Hands Dirty ‘About bloody time’, you’re saying. After all this annoying theory and insisting that you do irritating things like read instructions, do some research etc etc, we’re finally going to make some noise and record it. But wait... there’s more. Don’t start your DAW software just yet. Have you turned off any screen savers? Any power-saving schemes? Antivirus software? Any of those things that can still run in the background and apart from chewing into your CPU and RAM resources can come to life at all the wrong moments? Many a guitar lead break of a lifetime has been trashed by the infamous ‘aquarium’ screensaver bubbling and gurgling awake right in the middle of it. Ideally, you have a computer devoted to nothing except your DAW and you’ve dumped this crap off long ago, but let’s not kid ourselves. You’ve put something on, right? A game? A funny screen-saver? Turn all of these things off. Sometimes it’s good to get rid of those cute Windows and Mac ‘effects’, too.
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As much as they look cool, visual effects (like Vista’s Aero theme) are a computer resource hog and should be turned off. Check back on Chapter 1 if you need more help with this. All right, now you can start your DAW software. Audio Path When you begin your recording session by opening a new project, the DAW will provide prompts as to where you want to store your files or the ‘audio path’, as well as the name of the project and maybe where you want to store that, and a selection of project ‘templates’. In all cases, chances are the software’s default settings are nothing like what you want. The audio path is very important. Check that your files will be written to the separate hard drive you’ve installed specifically for that purpose and to a new folder named properly for this project. Usually, the DAW’s session file to initiate the session might be saved in the same folder, but some operators prefer to keep them all in a separate location for safekeeping. These files are quite small, but they contain vital information about your session and need to be guarded closely. Project Templates The project templates are a selection of common session set-ups and are a good place to start. If you don’t select a template you’ll be presented with a session completely devoid of any tracks at all. TIP Some of the suggested templates might be a little out there, but a great thing about them is that you can make your own. If you are consistently starting any of your recording projects with, for example, a drum sampler track, a virtual piano, a stereo track for your guitar and a mono audio track for vocals, then you can save all these into a Project Template that opens automatically when you fire up your DAW. Very handy!
If this is the case, you have to Add or Create a track for your first recording. To keep things really simple let’s make this an a cappella song with no musical instruments at all. You only need a single, mono audio track. It’s going to kind of look lonely in your project, but never mind. By the way, some DAWs use the Add Track function to create Groups, Effects Sends and others, too. Don’t let these choices trick you into thinking you’re using the wrong menu. Once you’ve selected what you need and hit OK the track will be placed into your Arrange Window. Before you start pressing any record buttons and tracking the music, check that you’ve got all those Track List/Inspector things we talked about in Chapter 8 correct, too. The track name especially. In all the excitement of what you’re doing, don’t forget these little details. A little bit of house-keeping now goes a long way towards keeping things under control and you’ll be grateful. Okay, now it’s time to put down a track. Huzzah!
Different Meters The two meters you can choose from will display either ‘Peak’ or ‘RMS’ (root-meansquare). A Peak display is a fasterreacting meter that shows you spikes in your audio’s volume — which is handy for inputs — but isn’t so good for telling you an overall, average level. That’s where RMS comes in. This gives more of an average reading, but is a slower meter that might miss a quick, short peak that could cause clipping. Some DAWs give you a combination of both. Meters can be CPU-hungry and (if possible) turning them off, once you’ve set levels, is a way of improving performance.
Recording with a Click Track You might be surprised at how many inexperienced (and experienced!) musicians won’t like recording with a metronome to guide them. If you can convince them it’s a good thing, go for it. A constant tempo makes any additional tracking so much easier to record and edit, particularly in MIDI-based music. A good way of getting musos to accept a click is to ‘compose’ a more natural click in your DAW — try a shaker or tambourine sound, for example.
Input Level The first thing you need to get right are the recording levels — the input. Even in the digital world some things haven’t changed, and setting up a good, strong input signal to lessen the noise floor is still a must. The ‘noise floor’ is all the unwanted noise in the room with the instrument you’re recording. No place is completely silent, although in some good studios you would be excused for thinking so. An acoustically isolated and dampened sound booth is almost weird to be in, because of the lack of sound and reflections — usually we’re constantly surrounded by noise and echoes. Ever noticed how quiet things are in a power cut? That’s because all your white goods and household appliances aren’t grumbling and ticking away in the background. But given we can’t do any candle-powered recording, a strong input signal will help mask any ambient noise in the room. By the way, some instruments have a certain amount of inherent noise, too. Keyboards and sound modules can put out a hiss or electronic murmuring, if you don’t have them set correctly. This shouldn’t be confused with any rated signal-to-noise ratio, which is a more technical measurement of electronic devices. See the Signal to Noise box item later in the chapter . Next, you have to ask your vocalist to make some noise to be sure your signal path is working. This means ensuring you have the correct input setting on your chosen track and arming the track — almost always a button that turns alarmingly red when you press it — so that input meters start to work. TIP Stand Down: Wearing headphones and preparing yourself mentally for recording a good take can be tiring. Here’s a tip to keep your performer happy: when you’re checking signal paths and levels, suggest to the singer (or player) that they relax and save their energy for the real thing. Don’t have them hyped up and ready to record, when in fact you’re trying to work out a signal path or menu option.
Here’s a fact of studio recording life you need to know: No singer in the world ever, ever makes the same amount of noise in a soundcheck that they will when they’re actually singing — unless you tell them to... twice. Instead, they’ll mumble ‘check one, two...’ or whisper silly jokes. The last thing they do is belt out the kind of full-throated vocal they want
in a song’s chorus. All those careful input settings that you made with a lazy or timid soundcheck will suddenly start red-lining and clipping when the singer begins performing in earnest. Red lines and clipping are bad in digital, remember? Really bad. Really, really bad. Insist during your soundchecks that the vocalist makes some real noise and doesn’t have any nasty surprises in store for you. The Monitor button on your track, which lets you hear the input back in real-time, might need to be selected before any meters will activate — it depends what software you have. Beware of the dreaded feedback we warned you of in Chapter 8! Now, as your vocalist loudly says ‘Check one, two...’ an input meter on the track is reacting, telling you how much level you’re getting. The accuracy of any virtual meters in a DAW is a hotly-debated subject among the experts, many of whom will tell you that good, old-fashioned analogue VU meters are the only way to go — which isn’t very helpful since it’s unlikely you’ll have hardware VU meters available. Whether you use Peak or RMS (VU) metering the aim is to keep your inputs just under any clipping levels. As well as watching the meters carefully, most DAWs have a fail-safe alert mechanism that will register clipping at the input, so pay attention and reduce the input level accordingly. (See the meters on the previous page.) Gain Setting So how do you increase or reduce the level to get it exactly right? The DAW mixer may give you input Gain adjustments or you can use the similar hardware gain control on the soundcard’s interface. Another way, believe this craziness or not, is to simply move the microphone closer or further away from the singer. How’s that for getting technical? Any of these methods — or a combination of them all — will do the job. They will also change the sound of your recording in slightly different ways as different frequencies become accentuated — for example, if you stick a mic closer to the source it won’t just sound louder, it’ll sound different. But, in the end, the goal is to have a strong signal made by a comparatively loud source through a signal path with good gain structure. It’s not always going to be easy to achieve. Soft vocalists can be a nightmare for an engineer. This is the kind of stuff that sorts the wannabes from the achievers. If you can get a strong and clean recording every time, on every track
Extreme Cheating There was a time (and it’s still with us) when some record companies saw that modern recording techniques were a way of getting less talented, but popular, celebrities into the record charts. Before anyone could stop them, footballers, soap opera actors and weather presenters were releasing albums and singles — and topping the charts. You can blame Punch In recording mostly. Nobody had to sing an entire song in tune. Not even a whole line of lyrics. Just getting one word at a time did the trick. It was awful and extreme cheating... and it got some truly terrible singers into the Top 10, albeit briefly. It doesn’t happen anymore, though. They use pitchcorrection software instead!
the golden rule of music production is to make sure the individual tracks are put down properly in the first place “
his is a wave file image of a recording where the T input levels were too low, plus the background noise floor was quite high — a section is highlighted to show you.
he same wave file, but someone’s tried to get T around the problem by boosting the volume in a wave editor. Unfortunately, that method also increases the noise floor, as you can see. Another work-around might be to select only the sections of audio you need and increase their volume. However, be aware that will still boost the noise floor in the background. There’s no substitute for getting your gain settings and mic placement right in the first place. ow we’re looking good. The recorded audio is at N a nice, hot level while the background noise floor, visible in the gaps between, is low.
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T his is Audition with a punch-in region selected. The Region selected applies to the whole project, so it’s easy to punch into as many tracks as your hardware allows as long as they’re armed.
simple one-track A punch-in completed. See the new clip replacing the original take.
and overcome any obstacles, the benefits during mixdown are invaluable. Pre-Roll Metronome Finally, before you start recording, you should look at the metronome options and particularly a thing called ‘Pre-roll’. If you want to record at a specific tempo (and you should, generally), turning on the metronome will play a click in your headphones at the tempo you’ve set. Pre-roll is a set amount of time, measured in bars, that is a lead-in at the front of the recording before it actually starts. If you’re operating the DAW for someone else, it’s not a big deal. However, if you’re recording yourself, the Preroll is a useful option to give you time for putting down your coffee, scratching your nose, picking up the guitar... before the cursor starts moving (or it’s automatically positioned the required amount of bars before the punch-in point). Other drop-down boxes will let you choose different sounds for the metronome, if you’re not keen on the standard bleeping and blopping. Lane Takes & Comping Some DAWs will let you use Lanes (or a feature called something similar) that can eventually lead to “comping”. What? Okay, your vocalist is attempting to record a particularly tricky lyric that takes energy and practise to get right. One way of doing this is to loop-record, which means having the project looping at the required section of the song, punching in and out, recording all the time while the singer tries again and again to get it right. A risk is that they’ll get it perfect during one attempt only to have the song keep looping and erase that good take, before anyone can hit the Stop button. Damn! The solution is Lanes, where each separate pass over that part of the song
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is automatically recorded on a different lane (a different virtual track really). Let’s say it takes 20 attempts. Great! You just erase the other 19 bad ones and carry on. Alternatively, if the singer keeps getting some of it right, some of the time, but none of it right all of the time (feel free to read that twice) you can slice, dice and combine all those 20 takes to compile (“comp”) one good recording. It’s clever and a good way of getting those hard performances done, but you can quickly amass dozens of unwanted wave files in your Pool. So if you resort to comping, make sure that afterwards you convert the compilation into a single wave file and get rid of the junk.
Hit Record All right... with all the above in place, the singer primed and ready, you can now hit the ‘Record’ button and make your first take. The cursor should move smoothly across the Arrange Window and a wave file filling the track will be painted after it. Any jerkiness suggests your hardware setup isn’t right and the CPU is struggling. After singing a few lines — maybe a loud section first — listen back to check it. You might have to turn off the Monitor button to do this. If it sounds great, you’re on your way. You just made your first studio recording on a digital audio workstation. And it was so easy, right? In fact, why did it take 11 whole chapters to get here?! What was all the fuss about? Well, exactly… once you know the basics, things look pretty easy. Hopefully our tips will prevent you from spending all night on the Guerrilla Guide forums asking questions, but of course don’t be shy and log on, if you need help. So well done — any first recording that’s clean and clear is a real achievement. By the way, here at the Guerrilla Guide we do accept gratuitous gifts of booze and chocolate from grateful readers! Constant Vigilance! It’s wise to use this step-by-step careful approach to recording every track. Never assume that something will be okay without checking it. Definitely don’t expect the record input level for one track to be good enough for another, unless you’re doubling a vocal or doing something that’s like a duplication. When you’re confident that everything is working well, you and your performer can relax and concentrate on the creative side of things.
Record Dry Another good pointer about recording audio is be very careful about how much you’re tempted to ‘colour’ or effect a recording as it’s written to the hard drive. Meaning, how much you tweak the sound. Keeping your recordings as ‘dry’ or untreated as possible is always best, because you can make all kinds of changes later during the mixdown. Anything you do during the actual recording can’t be undone — you’re stuck with it. Think twice, before you make any changes. Is it really how you want it to sound? Can you do the same thing in the mixdown instead? On the one hand you want your basic recording to be exactly right — to sound perfect. If that means boosting the high frequencies on an otherwise dull microphone, that’s fine. Just remember: there’s no going back. Basic Audio Editing Despite all our best efforts to get a track right, sometimes you make a recording that does need fixing somehow. Maybe you played a near-perfect take that’s marred by only a small error? It might be better to get rid of that tiny mistake, rather than re-record the whole thing. Depending on what you’ve done wrong, there’s a couple of options available. Punch-in Recording Punching into a recording has been around a long time — it’s not a new thing initiated by DAWs. The idea is you only have to re-sing (or re-play) just the unwanted part of your track and have the DAW punch in, then out, of recording mode at the right places leaving the rest of a good take intact. The software overlays a new wave file on the top of the existing track without affecting the original recording (except if you choose a Punch-in mode that does). Punch-in recording has saved many a musician from having to re-record long tracks for the sake of fixing one small error — be it a glitch, timing stuff-up, wrong word etc. However, a bit of commonsense needs applying, too. If a track has so many errors that you’re punching in and out everywhere, you’re probably better off redoing the whole thing! How it’s Done First you have to identify the part you want to re-record and set the punch-in and punch-out points. This might mean zooming in on a wave file to find the right spot. After a while you’ll get good at actually seeing what’s been recorded. You can pick gaps where a singer took a breath, for instance. It’s likely you won’t be able to punch in and out exactly at the bad section without things sounding a little disjointed. For example, if a vocalist has sung a couple of wrong lyrics in a chorus, even if you can precisely isolate the offending words and replace
Zero Crossing Points Strap on your technical hat here: Wave files alternate between a positive and negative phase centred on a zero amplitude point in the middle. So if you need to cut into this sound wave, either with an edit or a punch-in, ideally you want to break-in where the wave is crossing this centre line — where there is for an infinitesimal fraction of a second, no volume. If you don’t, the wave file will abruptly change from one volume to another, which is like tripping over a step and can cause an audible click. To avoid it, your DAW can automatically find the zero crossing points for you — problem solved. However, it might mean you can’t have your editing or punch points exactly where you want. If you’re trying to select in and out points and your DAW isn’t being co-operative you should probably turn off the ‘search zero crossings’ function.
ere’s the vocal track in Edit H View with the offending telephone ring highlighted and Silence selected.
J ust like magic — except with a digital rabbit being pulled from the hat rather than an analogue one — the Silence function has converted the ring tone to nothing and preserved the length of the file.
A great consistent sound is always better than something with a zillion punch-ins and edits them, you’re probably better off re-recording the whole chorus. It will sound more natural. Still, these are choices you make in the session — it’s up to you. Some DAWs will have dedicated markers for selecting Punch In and Out Recording regions or you’ll use the normal Left and Right markers also for looping or repeating a section of the project. Before you attempt the punch-in, place the cursor several bars or more ahead of the section. Your vocalist needs to hear where they are in the song! You then might have to select some kind of Punch In Recording mode, before hitting the Play (or Record) button on your transport. Signal to Noise Ratio Audio equipment is rated with a ‘signal to noise ratio’ (SNR) and does, to be strictly correct, also have a noise floor. It measures the amount of the noise the device, like a preamp or a compressor, creates with its own circuitry. In other words, how noisy the equipment is itself. More expensive and well-designed devices normally have low SNR figures. But some devices such as tubedriven pre-amps can’t avoid higher ratings purely because of the circuitry required. Tubes are expected to be a bit noisy.
It’s best to be singing or playing the material well before the Punch In point and keep going until well after the Punch Out point. Don’t try to stop and start at the correct moments yourself — let the DAW worry about that. Once you’re beyond the Punch Out point you can stop the DAW and listen to the result. You’ll be surprised how seamless these punch-ins can be. With a bit of luck and talent, you’ll nail the problem first go. Here’s a big hint: You should do any Punch In recordings either immediately after you’ve done the main track or, at the very least, at a time when you haven’t changed any of the settings on your input channels. The reason is you need the new (punched in) material to sound exactly like the old. To illustrate, this would be the wrong way to do it. Let’s say you’ve done a vocal track. Next, you alter things to record a rhythm guitar line and then realise you made a mistake in that vocal. Not good. The chances of you reproducing the same settings you had for the original vocal tracking are unlikely. Even if you come close, the singer isn’t going to perform the same. Their energy and focus will have dropped. This means that any punch-ins are going to obviously sound different. Chapter 25 looks at planning a recording session more thoroughly and will help you organise things like this better. The main rule, though, is to do any Punch-Ins while all the settings for the recording are the same. TIP Monitoring Punch-ins with ASIO Only. If you’re not using a small mixing desk or something similar and relying on the soundcard to give you real-time monitoring of your recording, then punching in and out is possibly going to give you a new problem. If you don’t use “auto” (or smart) monitoring, then while you have Input Monitoring switched on you can hear what you’re recording, but not what you’ve already played. Alternatively, with it switched off you’ll hear your previous take, but not yourself when the punch-in activates. (We know you’ll be confused about this, but when you come across this issue at least a little light globe should go off inside your head, hopefully, and you’ll think, ‘Ah, that’s what they were talking about!’). Auto
monitoring automatically switches between the two. Otherwise, the answer is to temporarily make a duplicate of the track you’re punching into and listen to that (with the piece you are replacing cut out of it, of course so it doesn’t double with the new part and distract the singer/musician). Editing Audio Instead You might not have to use Punch In recording to fix your problems. Maybe someone coughed or knocked a microphone stand? Here’s where you can open the DAW’s Editing Menu to advantage. In the example above there’s a nasty noise in the main vocal track — the singer’s mobile phone started ringing and he took a few seconds to turn it off (don’t worry, the rest of the band beat him up later). Luckily, it happened while he was waiting for the guitar solo to finish, so it didn’t impact on any of his vocal sections. Using the Edit menu, we can select the sound of the phone and convert that part of the wave file to Silence — remember: deleting it will chop out that section of the wave and push anything recorded afterwards out of time. In the press of a few buttons the ring tone has vanished. You’ve recovered a good vocal take without having to re-record the whole track. Again, while this is a neat trick to save you a lot of time, you have to assess each recording on its own merits and decide which is the best option, if there are problems. The Edit menu can provide plenty of tools to smooth over the cracks of a bad performance, but if it takes you oodles of time to polish up a four-minute vocal... what’s the point? It’s quicker and easier to get the singer to re-record the track (without the mistakes or the mobile phone ringing). Keeping it Real With both Punch In recording and the Edit Menu at your fingertips it’s tempting for musicians to get this kind of ‘let’s get the material close and fix it later’ attitude towards recording. They accept lots of errors, rather than put down a track in one perfect take, because they know the sound engineer has got some tricks up their sleeve to smooth things over. The lesson is the same whether you’re in a small studio with professional equipment or balancing a laptop, synthesiser and a pair of headphones on your bunk bed. Strive to get the best recording you can, before resorting to punch-ins and editing. A great consistent sound is always better than something with a zillion punch-ins and edits.
Summary efore you start any B DAW software, make sure any extra applications that might be running in the background are turned off. hen your Project is W created, check all the folder and track name settings to ensure files are named and written where they should be. ake the time to careT fully check input levels — losing a great take to digital clipping is frustrating. ry to record tracks as T dry as you can — you can experiment with effects later. unch-in recording is P very good for fixing small mistakes, but if a bigger fix is required, think about re-recording the whole track. he same goes for T using audio editing — consider how much time you’ll need to do the edits as it might not be the best use of your time.
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Tuners Some software will have a built-in tuner. These can be both accurate and hypersensitive. Make sure you mute all the strings except for the one you’re tuning.
Guitar Amplifier Simulators Okay, hands up all of you who are absolute crap at playing a guitar unless you add a bit of delay, reverb, distortion, chorus or flange? Now you sound more like Jimi Hendrix and your friends are impressed, right? Yes, it’s cheating — but don’t worry, everybody does it. Fortunately, your DAW can do it for you. With an appropriate plug-in, of course. First, let’s revisit a bit of theory. Put those propeller caps back on. Dating a Model The digital music revolution means that just about any individual sound can be analysed, broken down into binary information and used in a DAW. This is why plug-ins are sometimes called ‘emulations’, whereby the actual sonic character and timbre of an instrument or a piece of equipment can be reproduced very closely and turned into a kind of template to apply to other sounds. This type of emulation is often called ‘modeling’. Here’s an example. A few years back you could purchase ‘microphone modeling’ software from Antares, which promised to turn any mic’s sonic character into any number of expensive studio microphones. Sometimes the results came close — as long as the original recording had some quality in the first place — but it never quite got it right and it rarely fooled the experts.
ome DAW developers like Cakewalk have opted to make a deal with existing S plug-in providers, so Sonar X1 has a “Lite” version of Native Instrument’s Guitar Rig included. Other DAWs like Studio One and Cubase have decided, “Hey, we can do this without any help”. Pro Tools has the Eleven Rack (pictured above) which has a Lite version that runs natively as a plug-in or needs the hardware processor to provide the full wall-of-Marshalls version. Studio One has Ampire, an amplifier and cabinet emulator that relies on the other Studio One plug-ins to provide delays and reverbs, etc. And Cubase 6 comes with the VST Amp Rack, a fully-featured amp simulator which is pretty darn impressive.
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The same approach is used in creating realistic plug-ins of famous and renowned pieces of gear. For example, you can get a software plug-in of an SSL console’s channel strip, which is a piece of legendary hardware few of us could ever afford to purchase. The plug-in can make your DAW channel sound almost like it’s going through an SSL console — awesome. Almost, because the purists will never agree it’s exactly right and they’ve got a fair argument. The reason this kind of modeling is so successful is that the original manufacturers allow the software designers access to their technology and research, then license out the results. Which is vastly different to someone ripping off a company’s hardware circuit and reputation without asking.
Another area where modeling works very well is in copying the characteristics of things like speaker boxes, electronic equipment and even the sound of a particular environment (convolution reverbs use a form of modeling). In the case of a guitar simulator, all these elements are present: guitar amps and speaker boxes, stomp effect pedals, preamps and even microphone positions. With a combination of modeling and the ability to digitally recreate gear, software such as IK Multimedia’s Amplitube, Native Instrument’s Guitar Rig and Line 6’s GearBox mean that everyone can now play their guitar through some kind of monstrous rig that would have Eddy Van Halen green with envy. Plugging into the Plug-In These guitar amp plug-ins are best inserted like any other effect directly over an audio channel that you want as a guitar track (some products like Line 6 have an audio interface style, but they can be inserted as well). Alternatively you can create an Effects Send with the amp simulator as the effect, but this means you’ll get a mix of the original and affected signal returning into your mix unless you make the send pre-fade and turn the channel volume down to zero... ah, is this getting difficult? Just insert it over a channel, like we were talking about in the first place. Then you assign an input from your audio interface and plug a guitar into the interface’s Instrument input. This should work fine, but it can also cause a couple of problems. First, those Instrument inputs are designed to cater for a lot of things, including keyboards and bass guitars with active pick-ups, which have strong signals. You might find your electric guitar has a comparatively weak signal and will need plenty of added gain. As a workaround, if you don’t have enough clean gain at the input, insert a plug-in with gain controls over the channel but don’t engage any other parts of the plug-in and use this as a preamp simulator gain increase. Just be sure to set slow attack and fast release times on the compressor so it keeps all the nuances of your playing. It’s best to set up your amp simulator sounds with the monitor volume down because changing between presets can result in huge changes in volume. It might even be worth inserting a limiter plug-in after the amp simulator to protect your speakers and hearing. In other words, by emulating guitar amps, stomp pedals and different types of valve tubes this software can build up a tremendous amount of gain in your signal path. Be aware and take care.
ine 6 GearBox: L This is the GearBox GUI interface that comes with many of Line 6’s TonePort and Pod products. Like Amplitube, it can emulate a lot of traditional settings and uses old-style knobs and switches. But it also has a slick new look and a neat, on-line component for trading licks over the Internet.
underneath whatever Nine Inch Nails mayhem you’re playing is a clean, untouched recording “
Keep an Eye on your CPU Meters Something else to remember is that running amplifier simulators can be pretty CPU intensive. Complex patches can be using at least reverb, chorus, delay and several types of EQ all at the same time. If this is a channel that’s part of a large project with lots of channels already, sometimes it will be best to do a rough mixdown of your song and record your guitar lines to this, rather than running multiple channels. Mixing Down Guitar Tracks The beauty of programs like these is that they process the guitar on top of the original clean guitar signal. In other words, underneath whatever Nine Inch Nails mayhem you’re playing is a clean, untouched recording. If you like, you can completely change the amp simulator patch and get another sound altogether. Brilliant! However, depending on your system and the host DAW don’t be surprised if any software like this doesn’t like running more than one instance of the plug-in in the same project. Usually it’ll be okay, so you can run one instance of (say) Guitar Rig 4 for your rhythm track then a second for a lead break, but it’s basically dependent on the amount of ‘herbs’ your CPU can deliver. However If you’ve finished a mellow rhythm track and want to use the plug-in for a nasty lead break, what do you do? It’s easy. Just bounce a mixdown of your rhythm track only and put this to another channel, then remove the original, clean recording. Now you have a rhythm recording that sounds exactly the same and isn’t using hardly any CPU power at all — it’s a straight forward wave file. It leaves your channel with the amp simulator inserted over it free for your lead break. An important reminder, though! It’s a good idea to hang onto that unprocessed rhythm recording — and any other source files for your guitar tracks — in case you want to remix them with a different patch later. Make sure you do this in such a way that your DAW won’t regard it as an ‘Unused’ or ‘Deleted’ recording because it isn’t actually inside the Arrange Window anymore, thus lining it up for erasing from the hard drive, if you give it a chance. Make a separate folder for ‘Original Guitar files’ or place it to the far right in your Arrange page/Main view after the point where the song finishes. How do you get Really Famous Sounds? It’d be great if, at the press of a preset button, we could sound like Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. Why don’t these guitar amp programs do this? Well, they do... and they don’t. Just about everything is copyrighted to some degree including, of course, brand names, so you need to look hard to see the ‘hidden’ intent of some of the components. Amplitube has some ‘VIP Patches’ with rather too-obvious names like ‘Jimi and the Wind’ (Jimi Hendrix), ‘Carlos’ (Santana) or ‘Red and Hot’ (come on, figure it out!). In its Stomp effects Line 6’s GearBox offers a distortion pedal called the ‘Screamer’ in a nice, lime green colour. Never, ever to be confused with a certain Ibanez Tube Screamer pedal that was famously green and is regarded as a classic sound! In other words, you may get clear explanations that
ative Instrument’s Guitar Rig 5: N Guitar Rig has a different set-up. You can add as many components to a virtual ‘rack’ as you want, including multiple instances of the same device. Just like in the real world, your guitar sound can radically change depending on the order in which you arrange the effects. The possible combinations are almost endless and you can go completely bonkers arranging the ‘Guitar Rack From Hell’. You might want to warn the neighbours first.
mplitube Stomp Box section: A Here are the foot pedals. You might ask why they bother doing this, instead of just putting in effects dialog boxes. The answer is vibe. You want it to look cool, don’t you?
he Live view of Guitar Rig: T Guitar Rig 4 encourages you to take the software on the road and wow live audiences. Of course, a real foot controller (called Foot Kontroller… they’re German) is available. You’re not expected to mash your size 12 Doc Martin onto the computer screen to change programs!
a particular patch is supposed to be a 4 x 12-inch speaker cabinet, but recognisable brands and names aren’t so obvious. It’s Not Just About Guitar & your Studio Ultimately, these simulators are still an inserted effect and you don’t have to use them for guitar. You can try vocals, keyboards... hey, anything you like. Either way, they do an excellent job of adding some amp ‘gnarl’ and tone. You can save your own presets for each and every sound, and some programs have foot controllers that will run in a ‘stand-alone’ mode so you can use them at live gigs (assuming you play at a venue where nobody will steal your laptop as soon as your back’s turned). In the studio you can not only use the foot controllers, but also the automation tracks in your DAW to record any patch changes and make things totally foot-free and twice as easy.
Good Guitars & Good Strings These simulators are clever… really clever. But they can’t make up for a cheap guitar or old, dull strings. You might not be able to afford the latest US-made Fender Stratocaster, but a set of new strings and a guitar setup to fix any intonation problems will always make a big difference.
uitar Amplifier and G Effect plug-ins use a form of modeling that digitally recreates the sounds and characteristics of real guitar rigs. hey should be used as T a plug-in inserted over an audio channel and you’re not restricted to just guitar tracks — use your imagination. ifferent patches can D have wildly different gain structures — be careful as it’s hard to turn something off with a mouse when your head’s been ripped clean off! GG :: 23
Pop filters: A good pop filter can help save a vocal take from ‘plosives’ like ‘B’ and ‘P’. The standard nylon fibre filter has been around a long time, but if you have different singers or maybe a heavy smoker and you want something that can be easily cleaned there’s now a range of metal mesh filters. Stedman does a good one, for example.
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No doubt, since you’re so interested in recording songs yourself, you also listen to a lot of music as well (if you don’t, you should!) and you’ve probably heard some crazy vocals. Voices that sound like they’ve been crushed, mangled and stretched into all manner of alien noises. You’d be excused for even thinking some vocals were phoned into the studio weeks after the event. Musicians and sound engineers can come up with some pretty strange ideas in the wee small hours of the morning, but generally speaking, no matter how weird a singer might sound on any song, that vocal track would have started out as a clean, clear recording. This secret to success applies to almost every recording. Get it down in crystal-clear perfection and if you want things to be mashed and dirty later, do it during the mixdown. The exceptions are instruments that aren’t expected to be ‘clean’ in the first place. Things like distorted guitars or a growling Leslie speaker cabinet are recorded the way you want them... you get the idea. Dynamic Range For many reasons, vocals can be the hardest thing to record well. One problem is the dynamics of any singing performance. Dynamics are best described as the range of different volumes that occur during any recording. So a vocalist who might whisper the first few verses of a song, but end up screaming the last chorus would be presenting you with a wide dynamic performance. Think of acts like Linkin Park, Nirvana, even Kelly Clarkson and the like. If you watch some of the ‘old hands’ at bashing out a big number, you’ll see them moving the microphone close for quiet passages, then further away for loud parts. It’s called ‘microphone technique’, a kind of manual volume control the vocalist employs to compensate for a dynamic performance (love him or hate him, John Farnham is a master of it). Singers with good microphone technique are generally held in high regard by audio engineers. In the studio where things are bit more predictable — rather than on a pub stage where things are far from predictable — good ‘microphone technique’ isn’t quite
so critical. Compressors — a device or plug-in that evens out the dynamic range — make the job easier for the recording engineer and the average singer only has to worry about singing. But before we look at recording with any kind of signal processor involved, let’s talk about the most important tool of the trade, microphones. Condenser or Dynamic? There are three main types of microphone: dynamic, condenser or ribbon types. (You’ll also occasionally come across a type of mic called a PZM, but don’t worry too much about that just now.) Actually, for the moment, don’t worry about ribbon microphones either, they’re a little left-of-field and quite specific in their application. They’re a great addition to a mic arsenal, but you’re first mic won’t normally be a ribbon mic… so we’re going to ignore them for a while. That leaves us with dynamic and condenser mikes of which there are hundreds, if not thousands, to choose from. The main point here is that while some dynamic microphones, such as the legendary Shure SM58, are fantastic for live performances they need extra thought, if you want to use them in a recording studio. Microphones designed for a live stage mostly have a tighter pick-up pattern and aren’t all that ‘sensitive’. They’re meant to amplify whatever is close — like the singer’s voice — and ignore everything else around it. A lot of performers just don’t get this important fact about microphone designs and they get grumpy when you try to explain. Your vocalist will claim to be able to ‘project’ their voice (it’s a pride thing for singers). They’ll be classically trained, and they’ve watched every episode of Australian Idol — they can yodel across four octaves. To demonstrate, they’ll stand at the opposite side of the room and sing at the top of their lungs, scaring the neighbour’s chickens. However, the recording will still sound thin and horrible, because your dynamic microphone isn’t really interested in anything that’s more than about 15cm away. Here’s the bottom line. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Pavarotti or Pink, if you’re using a dynamic
microphone for recording vocals make sure the singer uses it close.
Proximity Effect Microphones have a ‘sweet spot’. A distance from the diaphragm where everything sounds pristine. Move too far away and you begin to lose bass tones. Get too close and things can sound ‘boomy’. In condenser and ribbon mics this is called the Proximity Effect and describes that extra bass when a singer gets too near the mic. Here’s one of those radical, techno-junky, electronic trickery solutions to fix this: tell the singer to move back a few inches. Saying that, sometimes it’s just what the vocals need. Use your ears.
itch-correction Eg.1: V-Vocal ships with Sonar P Producer edition. Interface-wise, it’s very similar to Antares Autotune, which pioneered pitch correction. These plug-ins can do more than fix a bad note — like create harmony tracks — so the interface is a little daunting for some. Take the time to learn all the features and it can be a powerful tool.
itch-correction Eg.2: Celemony’s Melodyne uses P a different approach to pitch correction with its interface, but it’s just as impressive with the results.
Another answer is to use a condenser microphone, which is designed to do exactly the opposite. Just about all good studio microphones used for vocals are condensers. They are far more sensitive and will naturally pick up a vocalist standing back from the mic. A condenser mic’s sensitivity does create another problem though. They suffer from ‘popping’ and it really is worthwhile investing in a pop-screen or pop-filter. (Failing that, try singing ‘across’ the mic and not directly into it.) Where to Record Vocals In Chapter 11 we got serious about setting input levels and doing a sound check, before attempting any recording. Nothing has changed here, but once you’re satisfied a good signal is coming into the DAW, the nicely-open microphone may reveal that the room you’re recording vocals in is far from ideal. You can hear all kinds of other stuff, like the fridge, traffic and even the rat in the ceiling. Yes, we’d all like a soundproof booth and a control room with that coffee machine, and an assistant running down to the shops to get beer and chocolate whenever we need it. The reality is you’re in a garage or a spare room. Maybe you’ve taken over the whole house for a weekend? So where is the best place to record vocals? Ideally an acoustically dead and isolated space will give you the least trouble, but if that’s too hard to arrange, don’t be afraid to use the sonic characteristics of some place to improve your recording. You’ll always hear stories of tracks being recorded in toilets, bathrooms and other ‘hard surface’ areas that create a natural reverb. If it works, why not? The lead vocal for one of the Corrs’ best ballads was apparently recorded inside Bono’s garden shed. When it comes to music no one is beyond a bit of improvisation and creative thinking. Certainly you have to avoid noisy environments — rooms filled with other electronic equipment or maybe closest to a busy road outside. Otherwise, experiment with your microphone in a corner or inside a walk-in wardrobe. Try it anywhere. You’re only restricted by your own imagination and... okay, the length of your headphones’ lead. Don’t get stressed by the idea your vocals have to be recorded somewhere lifeless and silent. Recording with Effects out of the Signal Chain A lot of vocalists will actually faint or have a nervous breakdown when they hear themselves singing for the first time in perfect 24-bit/48kHz digital clarity. The experience has shattered confidences and abruptly ended careers. Those who survive this first encounter with the truth about their vocal ability might know a way around the pain — they’ll ask you to put a reverb or delay over their singing to make it more natural. This isn’t a bad thing. Lots of guitar players get to disguise their finger-fumblings with distortion pedals and howling overdrive, so why shouldn’t the poor vocalist have a bit of help? The idea though is to still record the track cleanly and provide any helpful effects outside of the recording’s signal path — meaning you don’t record the reverb, but just send it to the singer’s headphones. If you have a separate mixing desk and an effects unit, like a Yamaha SPX90 or Lexicon MPX1, this is simple. But, if you’re monitoring directly from your DAW it needs a little more trickery. Importantly, it will put pressure on your CPU, too. The way to do it is by adding an Effects Send into your Project — not an insert over the vocal track — and returning it normally into the main mix that your singer can hear. Because it’s a Send you’re not adding it to the recording. This is explained fully in Chapter 20 since it is exactly the same process as adding an effect to your mixdown. But don’t get too carried away, particularly with any reverb. Reverb especially can really tax your computer’s resources and cause dropouts and glitches during
the recording. If you absolutely have to give the vocalist some kind of confidence-boosting effect on their singing and you don’t have an external desk or reverb unit to do it, try a very short delay — probably a preset called a ‘doubler’. It will likely do the job and is comparatively CPU friendly, or try a simple reverb, one without too many parameters that is light on the CPU. Recording with Effects in the Signal Chain Improvisation and creativity are just fine, so if you really want to record a ‘wet’ (effected) vocal track you have to make sure those effects are in your recording signal path. The best way is to insert them over the track or, if you have any external units, put them between the microphone pre-amp and the soundcard input. Beware, though, effects like reverb and delays have a way of sneaking up on you in levels. When you’re thinking it all sounds just right and it’s time to hit the record button, go for a walk around the garden or put the kettle on for a coffee. Then go back and check those effect levels again. Chances are it’s a bit more radical and ‘wet’ than you’ll want. Remember, recording this way means you won’t get an opportunity to remove any of the effect later on. You’re stuck with it. As mentioned previously, one thing to have in your signal chain that can come in really handy is a compressor to deal with those pesky dynamics. A light setting on a compressor can still keep the highs and lows of a performance intact, but put a cap on any sudden peaks in signal. Another useful tweak in your input path can be a touch of EQ. Some cheaper microphones might need a little help in the top end or a notch out around the 2.5kHz area. Again, don’t get too heavy-handed. There’s an old maxim in sound engineering worth repeating a few times: ‘a little is a lot’. Look very hard at your recording signal path and you should see that software (plug-in) effects like compressors and EQs won’t prevent any signal overload happening before your soundcard’s input. If you’re using an external pre-amp or a small mixing desk, and the vocalist is lighting up red lights everywhere, then some kinds of processing on your DAW might repair some of the damage, but a clip or spike will still get through as a nasty noise. So while it’s possible to record a vocal with a software compressor or EQ doing something good for you, remember they’re not part of the recording signal path outside your computer and won’t prevent any problems occurring there. Some old pros like to ride the output level of the preamp manually on the way in. This is a great option, but you need to know the song, the singer and the exact amount to reduce or increase. Pitch Alteration Plug-ins Occasionally you’ll find yourself trying to record a singer who can’t sing — it might even be you. Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean your dream of a Grammy is over. The Top 10 charts are heavily populated by acts who struggle to hit the right note, even on a good day. At the same time it’s not wise to believe the wonders of modern, digital recording can turn any screeching punk rocker into a new Celine Dion at the push of a button. Sure, a good sound engineer will have a few tricks up their sleeve, but don’t make any rash promises. In short, you can never make a crap vocalist sound amazing, but you
Comfort Stop Some studios can go to extraordinary lengths to make their vocalists comfortable and relaxed — as long as it doesn’t make any noise. Low lighting is common and some performers use candles to create the right mood. Legend has it that Jewel preferred to record her vocals completely naked. Nice work for any bloke behind the mixing desk, you might say, but a professional engineer would keep their eyes firmly on the DAW the whole time and be grateful it’s not Meatloaf or Marilyn Manson at the mic.
You can never make a crap vocalist sound amazing, but you can make them sound acceptable. Meanwhile, great performers don’t need much help at all. ” GG :: 25
Different Microphones Sometimes when a vocalist does their own backing vocals everything can start to sound a bit ‘samey’. A neat trick is to use a totally different kind of microphone for back-up vocals. The different, sonic characteristic of that second microphone can help the illusion that you’re hearing a lead singer with someone else doing the harmonies, rather than one person blatantly multi-tracking their own voice.
Summary ocals are just about V always the most important part of your recording. So try your darnedest to get it right. ‘She’ll be right’, just won’t cut it. lways try and record a A clean vocal, even if you intend on distorting the heck out of it later. can make them sound acceptable. Meanwhile, great performers don’t need much help at all. Pitch alteration plug-ins like Antares Autotune or Celemony’s Melodyne can perform some nearmiracles on a bad vocal, if the engineer is wellversed in how to use them properly. While these programs have general presets that might fix some pitch issues okay, they do work better if their parameters are more closely attuned to the wave file you’re working with. Selecting exactly the right key, for example, helps a lot. But really, pitch alteration works best on small problems. Maybe the singer had the flu or a sore throat and couldn’t quite hit a note? There might be a lot of reasons that a good singer has a bad day, or maybe they’ve had to leave and aren’t around to do a punch-in to fix a bad note you discover later? You can probably save the day by carefully using a pitch correction plug-in. They’re a very useful tool to have in your DAW toolbox. On the other hand, if you find yourself trying to fix every track on every song with pitch correction there is a better solution. Get yourself another singer.
Vocal Condensers for Under $500: The good news is, you can buy a fantastic vocal condenser mic for under $500. I know, it’s still a lot of dosh, but a good vocal mic will give you years and years of solid service – you won’t regret it. You can’t go too far wrong with anything from the likes of Rode, Sennheiser, AudioTechnica, MXL and SE Electronics.
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Punch In Recordings & Extra Sessions In an ideal studio setup, when it comes to recording vocals, you have a particular microphone and preamp arrangement that never changes. You’ve got the best signal path all sorted out. Which is great, because it means your singer can go out for a pizza or even take a few days off and it doesn’t matter — everything will sound the same. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case and the mic setup is constantly changing to record other instruments, such as guitars, bass, different singers... you name it. We looked at this earlier, but it’s worth a reminder. If you’re going to make alterations to your input signal path, it becomes very important that you record all the vocals you need either in a single session or without making any changes to your settings between separate sessions. It doesn’t matter how careful you are marking the desk with a felt pen or saving presets on your input channels — reproducing exactly the same sound for any extra recording is almost impossible. The same goes for any punch-in recordings. It’s best to do any ‘fixing’ on a track, before you move on to something different.
Otherwise you’ll hear the new sessions stand out (either better or worse!) from the original tracking every time. While this is all good in theory, the reality might fall to pieces when your singer lies gasping for breath on the studio floor after trying to hit an elusive high ‘C’ all day. You need to do something else for a while to let the vocalist recover. There are a lot of possibilities, depending on your studio gear, so the best advice we can give is to look hard at what you’ve got. Can you move the mic input to another channel on a mixing desk, leaving the vocal settings untouched? Does your audio interface have a second channel? The point is, move onto something else and leave that channel untouched. Doing anything to avoid changing the settings halfway through a session is better than trying to put things back the way they were. Making Compilations: ‘Comping’ Did you see the box item about “comping” in Chapter 11? It isn’t just for fixing a short loop-recorded vocal section. ‘Comping’ is putting together a compilation of lots of different takes of any recording to create one perfect track. But sticking with the vocal theme here, what’s happened is that the singer hasn’t quite nailed any one attempt at the vocal track, but over several recordings of the entire track they’ve sung the various bits and pieces well. Instead of trying to do a multitude of punch-ins, you can edit the good parts into a single track. This is done by either leaving all the recordings in the project and using automation to switch from one track to another, or you go into an edit window to cut-and-paste all the segments into one wave file. It depends on just how many fragments of different takes you want to glue together. If there’s a lot, using the editing functions is probably going to be quicker than programming in lots of automation. Either way, there is still the problem of consistency. It needs to sound like it was always one, perfect take and the vocalist is some kind of singing megastar. All those issues about making sure you don’t change the settings on the vocal input channel seriously apply, if you think you’ll be comping a track later.
good rule of thumb: A don’t record your vocals with effects. Add them later during mixdown. dedicated studio A vocal microphone is a great investment. ecord in an acoustiR cally dead, quiet room. Wardrobes are a good standby. Setting up mattresses to make a ‘booth’ can work as well. Experimenting with ‘live’ rooms, like bathrooms, can produce interesting results and may even sound great, but limits your options later. ocalists find it hard V hearing themselves ‘dry’ (with no effects) in their headphones. Set up a ‘comfort zone’ effect outside of your DAW entirely. Alternatively, create an Effects Send so the input signal path is still clean. emember: pitch-corR rection plug-ins are the last resort of a desperate sound engineer. ry to leave untouched T all the settings for a recording session until the tracking is completed. othing sounds better N than a great vocalist, singing a perfect take. Anything else is a compromise. Aim high.
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Guitar Amplifiers & Cabinets There are four places to put a microphone for guitar amps; In (or On) Axis, Off Axis, either behind or in front of the cabinet, and at various distances. The choice affects the sound you hear. Whether you like them is up to you. ‘On Axis’ means the microphone is placed exactly in front of the speaker cone. This gives you a hard in-your-face tone — not to mention loud! Off Axis has the microphone pointed at the edge of the speaker cone. This creates a more mellow tone. Some cabinets sound quite good miked up from the rear — it’s crazy but hey, if it works, don’t ask too many questions. Finally, the distance you set the microphone from the cabinet can put some ‘air’ around the sound. You really can hear the space between the microphone and the cabinet making a kind of natural effect.
Microphone Placement If you get the chance to check out a large, professional studio you’ll find a cupboard somewhere filled with all kinds of different microphones — some of which will be worth thousands. The owners of these studios will never, ever try and calculate how much money they’ve invested in this cupboard of goodies. It can make them weep and telephone their accountants late at night just to apologise.
If you’re dealing with a twin or quad box, unless you can set up a microphone at a distance and let the guitarist blast away, you’ll end up focusing on one of the speakers anyway. So be aware that no two drivers (speakers) suffer wear and tear at the same rate, so whatever miking method you decide on, experiment with different speakers in the box itself. You might find that one sounds better than all the others. Importantly, changing the microphone position for any cabinet is a far more effective way of getting different sounds than tweaking EQ plug-ins. The same applies to bass cabinets, if you want to mike one up (rather than use a DI from the guitar). Bass boxes are prone to one problem that guitars also have — except much worse. We’re talking about rattling. Loose grilles, voice coils bouncing and that missing screw inside the cab that no one’s ever bothered to get out. Placing your microphone to avoid these unwanted noises can often be more important than anything. The thing is, listen for them during tracking. Often you’re so involved in hearing the guitar sound that you don’t notice the rattles until it’s too late. For this reason, it pays to keep a screwdriver handy.
There’s a reason for these cupboards. Every microphone has a specific purpose and should be used in a particular way to get the best results. It can make all the difference.. The truth is that while microphone choice and placement certainly is an exact science, not everybody can afford the luxury of a vast collection. You can, however, improve your recordings by applying a few easy rules to how you mike up things in your studio. This chapter outlines some helpful miking hints. We’ll assume you’ve got a good condenser microphone or two and a decent dyamic mic.
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Shure SM57 If the Shure SM58 is the standard vocal microphone for all occasions, the SM57 is the instrument microphone for every... well, instrument. There isn’t much you can’t mike up with an SM57. Guitars, toms, snare drums — you name it, the SM57 does them all. There are plenty of other great instrument mics out there — Beyer, Sennheiser, AudioTechnica, Rode, AKG etc, all have them — but it’s amazing how often you’ll see the 57 in action.
ass Drum B Put the mic in the shell for a more ‘clicky’ sound of the beater hitting the skin. Place the mic out of the hole for a deeper, subby kick sound.
Drums Recording drums can be tough and it’s one area where home studios find it very difficult to emulate the pros. Drums need a decent room to record in and (if you’re aiming for a big rock sound) lots of microphones. If you’re after a more relaxed drum sound then often it’s just a matter of finding a good-sounding space to set up in and sticking up a mic or two – effectively capturing the sound of the drums in the room. But let’s get back to the multi-miked approach: As you can imagine, setting up and simultaneously recording up to a dozen microphones requires a lot of audio firepower – lots of preamps, cables, mics etc. Not only that, but with so many mics set up, and with the drums being such a loud instrument, every mic is ‘hearing’ what every other mic is ‘hearing’ – this is called spill and can turn your recording into one big mess if you’re not careful.
i Hats H Changing the angle of the mic as it points at the hi-hats alters the tone of the sound. So experiment.
So, for starters, it’s best not to set your sights too high. Try three mics – one for the kick, the snare and another mic that catches a good overall balance of the kit.
AKG D112 A large-diaphragm dynamic mic made for sitting in front of kick drums. Beyer’s M88 is another kick drum favourite.
The kick drum benefits from having its own mic – its sound underpins your mix and creates the groove with the bass guitar so it’s nice to have individual control of it in the mix. If the front skin has a hole for a mic then place it in the drum — it’ll give you a better defined, edgy sound, because you’re also picking up the click noise of the beater hitting the skin. A mic outside the hole can create a deeper whoof kind of sound made by the air being punched out of the drum through the hole. There are some good purpose-designed kick drum mics such as the AKG D112 and the Audio-Technica AE2500. Other ‘normal’ microphones might struggle to reproduce the bass tones and cope with the high sound pressure levels (SPL, meaning volume). Snare drums are best close-miked from the top (pointing at the middle of the skin at around a 30° angle). Often you’ll see or read about an extra mic at the bottom of the snare which captures the snare wire sound nicely — but depending on the snare drum, you may or may not need it..
Snare Angle the mic to point at the middle of the skin. Have the rear ‘deaf’ end of the mic pointing at the hats if you don’t want them in your snare channel. Don’t get the mic too close, or the drummer will smack it.
Hi-hats are always useful on their own track. If you’re short on microphones and resources always mike the hi-hats rather than any toms. That other mic we mentioned, the one that captures a good overall balance of the kit, can be crucial. If you’ve only got a couple of mics then definitely don’t think of it as a cymbals mic, cos you’re also trying to capture the sound of the toms and probably the hi-hats as well. So experiment – put some headphones on and listen to what the mic is hearing. If your kit is set up well and you’ve got your room sounding nice then this mic can really make or break the overall sound of the drum recording. In pro studios mics can end up on the floor, in the corner… some really odd places that sound great — so don’t limit yourself by putting the mic somewhere conventional.
verheads O Overheads as we’re used to seeing them. But in the studio they can go anywhere, depending on how much of the room’s acoustics you want to hear. Stick your headphones on and listen to what these mics are hearing.
One last rule. Whatever position you settle on for a drum mic, keep it out of harm’s way. a) Because the drummer will be distracted by the mic — wondering if they’ll hit it; and b) mics aren’t cheap and they don’t like getting belted.
i mprove your recordings by applying a few easy rules ” GG :: 29
A coustic Guitars. Acoustic guitars will often have a great pick-up in them anyway, but nothing sounds quite so natural as a properly miked-up acoustic. You’ll need a condenser microphone for certain. The only, only way to mike up an acoustic is to place the microphone facing the soundhole to start with and then begin carefully moving it around while you listen to someone playing, finding the ‘sweet spot’. Every acoustic sounds different according to the instrument and the player’s technique. As a rule, towards the bridge brings a sharper sound while placing the mic higher or lower will emphasise the bass or highs, because of the strings it is closest to. Take your time and jot down notes! Getting a guitar microphone to sound the same way twice is almost impossible. The good news is it’s fun — which is what studios and music is all about, right?
The best place by far for any vocal microphone is behind a pop-screen. Which might sound a bit like a wise crack, but it’s true. Anything else hardly matters. Recording vocals without a pop-screen to avoid ‘plosives’ is a recipe for all sorts of frustration. And okay... there’s another trick. Often you’ll see microphones set slightly higher than they need to be so that the singer lifts their face to sing directly at it. The purpose is to open the vocalist’s throat and help their breathing. It also helps to sing across the mic to avoid plosives. If you do this, a singer always has a better sounding side to their face — serious! So find it!
If you ever have the opportunity to mike up a real piano be prepared to spend a bit of time experimenting, too. Be assured that no matter where you place the microphone, suddenly a dozen sound engineers will magically appear out of thin air and tell you, “that’s not where you put it”. How to mike up pianos with a single microphone is a hotly-debated subject. The best results are usually achieved with a condenser microphone set to pick up the whole room — including the piano in it. But this means a lot of discipline on the part of the player and everyone else in the house to prevent unwanted noise. Really, the answer was in the first sentence.
Piano Headphones A great sounding piano microphone usually isn’t the best for creating a monitor feed into the player’s headphones — if you need one. The tone probably won’t cut through everything else. So if you need to mike up a piano and send a headphone feed, use a separate channel with a not-so-fussy microphone setup for something a little harsher that the player will hear. And for goodness sake explain (several times, no doubt) that it’s not the sound being recorded.
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Summary The time you spend getting a microphone ‘just right’ is time well spent. Sometimes a centimetre here or there can make all the difference. Getting a mic placement ‘just right’ isn’t something you work out on a calculator. You need to use your ears. Training your ears takes practice. A good way of training your ears is to listen to a mic through headphones, while you’re in front of the instrument. Move the mic — listen. Aim to buy a good vocal mic, a good instrument mic, a pop shield, good cables and a couple of well-constructed mic stands . The more mics you have up and live in the room, the harder it is to pull a good overall sound. A drumkit is tough to mic up because of this.
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Guerrila Guide - Recording & Music Production