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Cheap Advice On Live Sound
48 Tips To Make Your Band Sound Better
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Q&A: Achieving Stereo “Fullness”

Home Recording 2 Comments

Dear Cheap Advice Guy,
I’m trying to do a simple pan. I laid out 3 tracks with the entire song on each track. I put one track to the left, one to the right, and one in the center. When I listened to it on my home receiver it sounded no different than before. I first listened to the song with it only in the center. Then I mixed the 3 tracks with one in the center, one 100% left and one 100% right. There was barely a difference! I heard more sounds coming out of my left and right speaker when I rendered it with it in the center only. Why is there barely any difference?
I just want to make my music sound a little more full. I’m finding out this is not as simple as I hoped it would be.
Puzzled Songwriter

Dear Puzzled,

Thanks for getting in touch. And don’t despair! Your idea for expanding your single-track song by panning copies left and right is spot-on. All you are missing is one concept and some techniques. (It’s not that common to have a song on a single track, but everything I will discuss applies to individual tracks as well.)

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Use an “Anchor Fader” When Mixing Sound

Home Recording, Live Sound 2 Comments

Here’s a mixing tip that applies to both home recording and live sound. With both types of mixing, your mission is to establish and maintain a balance of levels for the various instruments and vocals, while keeping the mixer controls set somewhere close to their “normal” positions. Specifically, the volume faders should never end up all toward the bottom or all toward the top of their range, as this indicates a problem with gain structure, which can result in noise and/or distortion in your final output.

Why would this happen? In a typical scenario, you start out with all the mixer faders at the default “0″ point, i.e. about 3/4 of the way up. (This is accomplished by adjusting the mixer’s Input Trim controls for each channel so that each input produces a “0″ peak reading on the output meter with its channel fader set to the “0″ point.) Then you set the mixer’s Master Volume control to produce a suitable sound level through the onstage speakers (or through your home-studio monitors). Everything looks great. Then the music starts.

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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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One Track, Several Parts: The Art Of the Premix

Home Recording No Comments

One of the rules of home recording states: There are never enough tracks. Even if you are using the latest whiz-bang computer setup, there will still come a point where you just can’t add any more tracks without crashing the whole system. (Of course, this point may not come until you try to add Track #79!) Obviously, the problem is much more acute if you are using a standalone recorder unit with 4, 8, or 16 tracks. You may ask, How can I “shoehorn in” just one more part?

The best way to get those extra parts on there is to combine two or more instruments on some of the individual tracks, “premixing” these combinations to free up tracks for additional recording. (See my article Record A 16-Track Song On Your 8-Track Recorder for a very methodical approach to cramming lots of parts into a limited number of tracks.) The question is, which parts does it make sense to combine on a track? And what should I not do? Here are some tips that will help you get the most out of your track stacking.

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Record A 16-Track Song On Your 8-Track Recorder

Home Recording No Comments

If your studio is based on a computer workstation running ProTools or Cubase, you probably don’t have to worry about running out of tracks to use for your musical recordings. These days, most commercial recordings use dozens of tracks to achieve the sample-heavy, layered sound of today’s music. A new track for that subtle timbale part is just a mouse click away!

If you are using a hardware-type recorder unit, though, you have a certain number of tracks - usually 4, 8, or 16 - to work with, and that’s it. That’s how “wide” a single pass at your song is. When those tracks are full, there is no way to add anything more. It doesn’t matter that the song needs another keyboard and two more vocal tracks. You’re done.

Or are you? Here are a couple of techniques for cramming extra parts into your song by “premixing” groups of tracks, both of which allow you to record up to 16 tracks of music for your song on your 8-track recorder. Double your pleasure, double your fun!

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At the Gig: Five Ways To Avoid Feedback

Live Sound No Comments

One of the worst events that can befall a band during a show, aside from actual injury to any of its members, is to have a screeching blast of feedback suddenly deafen the audience, sending the band’s approval rating spiraling downward. If there is a sound man, he’ll probably get the blame, although as we’ll see, it might not be his fault!

Feedback can come through either the main speakers or the monitors, although in my experience it is more often the monitor speakers that feed back. (That way the band is briefly deafened too.) Usually, the microphones are behind the main speakers and the system isn’t running at the very edge of feeding back, but if these are not the case, you may be able to coax out some feedback from the mains as well as the monitors!

Back to basics for a mo: what is feedback, anyway? As the name implies, it results from speaker sound “feeding back” into (i.e. being heard by) one or more microphones that are running through that speaker. Round and round goes the sound. It’s like giving oats to a sick horse - you get the feed back. (I’ve been waiting to use that stupid joke since summer camp in 1962.) There are a number of steps that can be taken to minimize the possibility of this unfortunate menace. Here are five of them.

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Mini-Tip: Use Micro-panning In Your Mixes

Home Recording No Comments

Most mixes, whether simple or complex, end up with some of the sounds coming from the exact center of the stereo field. It is conventional, for example, to have the lead vocal positioned dead center, along with the kick drum, the bass, and (usually) the snare. The reason for this is fairly obvious: these easily heard parts carry most of the power and message of the song, and to have them be off to one side or the other would seem arbitrary and distracting.

Even under the scrutiny made possible by headphones, though, it is not necessary to have all of these centered sounds be exactly centered and thus exactly right on top of each other! You can give each of these parts a little micro-position of its own by panning one of them a tiny bit to the left, another a tiny bit to the right, and so on. The idea is to give the parts a little breathing room without anyone but you being the wiser.

[An expanded version of this Mini-Tip appears in my eBook, Cheap Advice On Home Recording.]

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