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Cheap Advice On Live Sound
48 Tips To Make Your Band Sound Better
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A Simple Audio Interface For Your Computer

Home Recording No Comments

When I first set up a simple computerized studio for MIDI-plus-audio recording, I used the audio hardware that came with my computer (a Windows machine from Hewlett-Packard) to get audio into and out of the Cubase software I was learning at the time.  Since I planned to record alone in that studio, my needs were simple.  I used an external mixer to route microphone signals to the “Line In” connector on the PC, and I used a MIDI-to-USB cable to directly input MIDI parts from a keyboard.  The PC’s “Speaker Out” connector was connected to a power amplifier and a pair of desktop speakers.

As I worked with Cubase, I came to realize that using the PC audio hardware was not the best approach for this kind of recording.  The main problem was that I was unable to use the various monitoring modes offered by Cubase, since everything that came in on the Line In connector came right out the speakers, whether I wanted to be hearing the input signal or not.  I needed a way to listen to only what Cubase was actually putting out as a monitor signal, not what I was putting in.

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Use Standard Image Formats For Your CD Art

Home Recording No Comments

Sharing your home-recorded music with others is easier than ever in these enlightened days of the Internet Age.  Your DAW, whether hardware or software, undoubtedly has a way of exporting your song as a WAV or AIFF computer file, which can be easily converted to a space-saving mp3 file.  The mp3 file can then be carried around on your thumb-drive keychain, loaded into your iPod, or even uploaded to the web for all the world to hear. Cool!

Still, there’s a special satisfaction in having an actual high-quality CD with your recordings on it to give to people - like family, friends, booking agents, whoever. And, for those who treat their music as fine art, the ability to design the CD label and the booklet and the back cover of the case presents a wonderful opportunity to extend the artistry and themes of the recorded album into the visual realm through its packaging. Let’s face it, a CD with well-designed artwork is a lot more impressive than one with “New Songs 09″ scrawled on the label with a Sharpie!

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Mini-Tip: EQ Your Monitor Speakers

Home Recording No Comments

The monitor speakers you use while mixing and mastering are a key factor in how your mixes will sound on someone’s stereo or in someone’s car. Although there are reasons to use headphones to verify the details of your mix (see my article Check Your Mixes In Headphones), there is no doubt that a good set of monitor speakers are required if you want your mix to sound good on a wide range of systems.

Sadly, though, the room you do your mixing in has a huge effect on how your monitor speakers actually sound, and the effect is usually to mar the sound in some way, generally by over- or under-responding to certain frequencies or frequency ranges. The room shape and dimensions, wall reflectivity, etc., are optimized in “real” mixing studios so that the overall frequency response is essentially flat. But what if you do your mixing in a basement or spare bedroom? Acoustic treatments are expensive, and no, egg cartons don’t work. So what to do?

One workaround that will definitely improve the situation is to put an EQ box between your DAW output and the monitor speakers. I use a 15-band unit, but any kind of EQ will help. Listen to CDs that you know well, and adjust the EQ a little at a time until the system consistently “sounds right.” In most cases you will apply the same EQ to both speakers, but if one of them is in a corner it may need a little extra bass reduction.

(An expanded version of this Mini-Tip appears in my eBook Cheap Advice On Home Recording.)

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A Triangular Approach To Mixing

Home Recording No Comments

I can still remember the very first time I heard music through stereo headphones. It was (ahem) 1960 or so, and I was in the home of neighborhood buddy Kevin Ritchie. (When I say “neighborhood,” I mean that Kevin, a doctor’s son, lived on the street where the rich people lived, just around the corner from my neighborhood.) Kevin put on his dad’s favorite record by twangy guitarist Duane Eddy, put his dad’s headphones on my head, and said “Listen to this.”

Wow! I don’t think I had even heard stereo through speakers before that moment, except the time my high-tech cousin George made me lie face-down on his bed to listen to a taped comedy program that he played through his stereo headboard. That twangy guitar music sounded incredible in the headphones - it was the coolest thing I had ever heard! Of course, I immediately developed Stereo Envy, since my own Bozo the Clown record player was a mono unit.

These days, much if not most listening to pop & rock music takes place via headphones (or, agh, earbuds), so it is more important than ever to give special thought to the left-to-right stereo image you are creating inside your listener’s head as you mix. One method I use when mixing for headphone listening is the Triangular Approach, which attempts to produce a pleasing, non-jarring stereo image that will not distract from the music.

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Let A “Cue” Track Be Your Guide

Home Recording No Comments

Most home recording engineers are accustomed to recording a metronome-like “click track” to keep all the parts on the beat as the song is built up. The click track serves as a “rhythm guide.” It gets erased when the track it’s on is needed, which is OK because by then the drums are usually on there keeping the beat.

Let’s take this “guide” idea a little farther. Some of my more exotic arrangements are rather complicated, with repeated segments (a little different each time, natch), shortened or lengthened lines, very long solo sections, untoward key changes, etc. When I’m recording tracks for this song - the rhythm guitar, let’s say - the hardest part is remembering which segment is coming up next (is it the bridge?) and exactly when the change occurs (now? now?). This makes it hard to concentrate on the music. What I need is someone to signal me somehow when these changes are coming….

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Go All Avant-Garde: Write and Record a Pastiche!

Home Recording, Songwriting No Comments

Here is a cool, if off-the-wall, project idea that combines songwriting with recording. Do you ever tire of always writing songs that are basically “vocals, with instrumental backing,” as it used to say on the old 45s? Why not branch out and do something avant-garde once in a while? One easy way to create a song that is unusual if not downright strange is to write and record a pastiche.

What is this pastiche of which I speak? The dictionary says that a pastiche is “an incongruous combination of materials, forms, motifs, etc., taken from different sources; a hodgepodge.” In this article, though, a pastiche is “an instrumental backing track with an unrelated audio track dubbed in over it.” Sounds crazy, or possibly stupid, huh? Well, that’s the avant-garde for you. But read on.

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Should I Use a Computer For My First Home Studio?

Home Recording No Comments

Once a musician (of any age) starts writing and playing his or her own songs, or joins a band and starts playing in front of actual people, it’s not long before the urge to get some of this music recorded for the ages begins to settle in. After all, why write a song if the only way to play it for someone is to grab your guitar and actually, well, play it for them? And why should everyone in the audience know exactly what your band sounds like playing live when you yourself have no idea?

So the idea dawns. “Hey! I ought to have some kind of recording setup here in my basement (or spare room, etc.) so that I can record my songs and put them on a CD! And wow, maybe I could take the recording stuff to one of our gigs and record the band playing, then put that on a CD too!”

It’s a great idea, but for someone brand new to the world of recording, that phrase “some kind of recording setup” raises a lot of questions, beginning with, what kind of recording setup? In the Ancient Days, there was only one answer: get yourself a multi-track tape recorder and use that as the basis for your home studio. The audio world has changed, but the descendants of those early units still exist in the form of “standalone” DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) such as those made by Korg, Tascam, and others.

These economical standalone DAWs have evolved to the point of becoming truly “a studio in a box.” Want reverb? It’s built in, with 100 variations. Want delay or chorus? Built in. Distortion? Guitar amplifier simulations? Compression? Mastering algorithms? Yup. All built in and ready to go. Everything works together because it was designed that way. The amount of equipment needed to provide similar flexibility 20 years ago would have filled half of your studio!

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Missing the User Manual? Find It Online!

Home Recording No Comments

Most audio software packages have their documentation stored in electronic form as part of the product. The user manual may appear as a PDF file on the distribution CD or may be accessed via the Start Menu or as a set of Help files you can access while the program is running. It’s kind of hard to “lose” the manual for the software when the manual is actually part of the software!

Alas, the situation for hardware units is much different. Here, it’s relatively easy to lose the manual by simply mislaying it, or forgetting which bookshelf you put it in, or even by accidentally discarding it. Or, you may have purchased the unit used and without a manual, the original owner having taken care of losing it for you!

Probably the worst piece of gear to have the no-manual problem with is a multi-track recorder. If you can’t find the manual for your compressor unit, well heck, you can probably figure it out from the control markings (unless it’s a digital unit with coded menu entries or something). But multitrack recorders tend to be (a) complex, and (b) idiosyncratic. No two units seem to use even simple terms like “monitor” in quite the same way. So who knows what all those buttons do?

Fortunately, user manuals for many recorders and other equipment are available online, for free, if you know where to look. Here are three sources I have used to track down those missing manuals.

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