The Project
Tracking with a Click
Tricks of the trade
Advice from the pros
Getting Great sounds
Home Recording
Home Vocal Session
The Session

       Tricks of the Trade      

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Some tricks and tips for recording at home or in the studio

Tricks of the Trade

Help, the whole song just sounds 'sloppy!'

Nine times out of ten, this comes from musicians not practising with a metronome. Everybody, even singers, should practise with a metronome. Drummers, bass and rhythm guitar players MUST practice with a metronome, or they will sound sloppy for ever.

In the past, sloppy playing was consigned to the bin. If it was a 'name' band or musician, key phrases or even whole parts were played by session musicians. This is still done today, of course. But we can also tighten up existing recordings by using bar-beat editing.

All modern DAWs (digital audio workstations) allow you to use bar-beat editing. This is done by setting up a MIDI map across the song in the time signature of the song (e.g. 120 bpm 4:4) and then cutting and pasting the sections back onto the beat. It is a very time consuming process and requires practise to get it right. But just about every popular song today is edited using bar-beat editing.

If you do not want to cut a whole project up into bits and reposition all the parts, but you do need to tighten up a few things (for example, the drummer lost the beat for just a couple of bars) then you can use the click track as a guide to move the offending tracks back onto the beat.

Help, I've run out of tracks!

Running out of tracks happens less often today as one has so many tracks. In the past, every decision about what kind of sound to go for had to be made in advance. If you didn't like it afterwards, tough. You were either stuck with it or you had to re-record those tracks.

But if you are using a recorder with a limited number of tracks and you have laid, for example, twelve tracks of drums, but do not want to commit yourself to one sound just yet, do a couple of stereo mix-downs of the drums back onto the multitrack. The first should be totally compressed and gated, to get a really artificial sound. The second should be totally open, using no dynamic effects. Now you can erase the originals and still change your sound by mixing from 'plastic' to 'open' drums - and you will have just used four tracks. If you have the spare capacity, keep the bass and snare drums on separate tracks, so that you can process them later according to the kind of sound you want for the overall mix.

Help, the T and S sounds on vocals sound as if someone is spitting!

This is called 'essing' and is cured by 'de-essing.' Most larger multi-effect machines have de-essing programmes as presets, but you can cure this problem by just using the eq on the mixing desk.

The best is to not get this effect at all in the first place. Part of the problem is that S and T sounds are projected slightly downwards, whereas the voice is projected forwards, so if you are using a condenser mic, place the mic at about eye level and nine times out of ten, this solves the problem.

If the recording has already taken place and it is too late to reposition the microphone, you can use a machine (or preset in a multi-effect) called a de-esser. This is a compressor/limiter that just effects the higher frequencies.

How do I get that 'breathy' sharp edge to vocals that one hears on nearly all records today?

This effect is sometimes done by a machine or software programme called an exciter. It was first pioneered by Aphex with their Aural Exciter (you have to love that name!) back in the 80s. In their 204, Aphex have married the Aural Exciter with their Optical Big Bottom - and don't you just wish that all product names were that good!  These effects create harmonic distortion above (or in the case of the Big Bottom - below) the original sound.  Like all effects, it should be used carefully and sparingly.

Another way of getting this effect is to take a feed from the vocal and pass that through a distortion box like the Pod.  This is often combined with retuning the vocals using the 'infamous' Autotune..

How does one get a slightly distorted 'bluesy' sound on vocals?

Use a guitar effect such as The Pod, but don't overuse it! You can also use a mic pre-amp and feed a guitar valve amp, taking your signal from the direct out at the back. Also try using a stage mic like the SM 58.

We need some good 'audio-hooks' or gimmicks on a song, but we just end up overloading the song with the usual effects. What shall we do?

Gimmicks should last only a few seconds. Make them strong and keep them short. Go back to basics and use the old faithfuls like echoes and reversed reverbs. Overdub vocals with a subtle whisper.  Introduce the song with a sound effect. Make one instrument or voice sound as if it has been played down a telephone for a few seconds. Don't overuse chorus, autotune, reverbs, etc.

How can I make the vocals stand out, without just turning them up?

You can add an edge to them with an exciter (above) and also by using a little bit of doubling.  An effective and subtle doubling effect can be achieved by mixing in a bit of automatic pitch correction.  Several multi-effects have this and of course the Autotune is the leading dedicated device.

The oldest and possibly still the best method is to get the singer to sing the line twice and place one of the takes in the background. You can also get another or the same singer to sing harmonies to the original and place these fairly well back.

Why do my drum sounds lack punch?

There are many things you can do to improve the drums.  First and formost, make sure that both drums and drummer sound as good as humanly possible.  Also, get good drum mics that are very directional (to cut 'spill').  Then you can put gates and compressors on them to give impact and bite - and lastly, if all else fails, replace key parts like snare and kick with a sample.
When you have done all that, remember to check that each and every drum hit that is supposed to line up with the MIDI map or the click track, does so perfectly.
No matter how perfect the sound, if a note or a drum hit is not in time, it will always sound as if something is missing.

How do I make my recording sound big, as if it is coming from outside the speakers?
There are two things you need to do here, firstly record real instruments in real stereo and then combine that with some m-s stereo widening.  This can be done using hardware or with a width plug-in.  However it only works really well when you are using real instruments that have been properly mic'ed up.


The Byre Recording Studio