In Part 1 we covered some of the techniques and challenges of recording faced by engineers and musicians in years past. In Part Two we’ll look at how even your brain can trick you into making bad recordings.
ONE TWO THREE FOUR . . .
The group sounds great, so you set up your mics and count it down. On playback it’s just not right.
“That’s not what we sounded like. Must be bad mics or something.”
What’s going on here?
The problem with recording is not mics. It’s not even your ears. It’s in your BRAIN.
Have you ever been in an animated conversation, then realized you didn’t notice loud traffic passing by, or hear somebody else trying to get your attention?
Humans have an evolutionary adaptation. We tend to pay more attention to the sounds we’re interested in (like predators approaching) and tune out unimportant sounds (like the rain falling). The brain filters out stuff all the time to keep it from being overwhelmed by sensory input.
We tend to listen to what we WANT to hear and tune out stuff we DON’T. Our brains re-adjust our perceptions. Familiar sounds (like a voice or guitar) tend to sound the same to us in whatever space we happen to be in, even though they’re really not.
Microphones can’t do this trick. They pick it all up, good and bad, and put it in your face.
This is why engineers have to practice years and years to actually “hear what they’re hearing”.
To get the sounds you want in a recording you have to sort of “fool” the mics into re-creating your own “subjective experience”. It takes a lot of practice and hard listening to learn do this well.
While you’re working on that, here’s some quasi old-school methods of recording might help you get you a little closer.
METHOD ONE- STEREO RECORDING
The nice thing about this method is that when you’re done recording, you’re done. You’ll need a small mixer with microphone inputs, and some sort of recording device that can receive a stereo input. Don’t use any setting that says “auto levels” though.
Place two mics about three feet from the floor – not too high as you’ll begin to pick up too much cymbal sound from the drum kit. Pan these mics hard left and right, then take a direct signal from the PA vocal and pan it in the center. Balance the direct vocal signal and the instrument microphones, then move the mics around to balance the instruments with the drum kit.
Keep experimenting until you can hear everything clear and separate across the sound field. Don’t play so loudly that you end up saturating the room. Opening a window or door can help, though you’ll need some understanding neighbors!
METHOD TWO – FOUR TRACK RECORDING
Set up two mics for the drums, one on the kick drum and one overhead, pointed down towards the snare drum. Mix them together then send them to a single track panned to center. Mic the bass and guitar amplifiers and pan them to three and nine o’clock. Record the vocal mic directly as before, panned to center.
The sound bleeding into the vocal mic helps create a solid and spacious drum sound.
METHOD THREE – BIG WIDE GUITARS
Mic and mix the drums and vocal as before. Put the guitar amps along each wall facing one other. Pan them hard left and right. Set up a headphone feed for the bass player and record it directly, panning nearly straight up.
This method creates a huge guitar sound, especially when both players are doubling parts.
Rather than trying to adjust your sound after recording, adjust WHILE recording. Cymbal too loud? Play it softer. Guitar too bassy? Roll off the bottom. Balance your playing. Keep testing and listening back until you’re satisfied.
Smaller rooms can often sound “boxy”, even with acoustic treatment. Cut frequencies between 300-500 khz and roll off the extreme bottom end. This will remove some of the room “muddiness” and improve the clarity of the mix. Add a little compression to the vocal track as you record then add a little multi or broadband compression to the overall mix at the end. You’re done!
PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE
If you’re well-rehearsed you can get surprisingly good results using these simple, old-school style recording techniques. It’s all up to you.
© 2014 Leo Bidne