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Cheap Advice On Live Sound
48 Tips To Make Your Band Sound Better
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Use Velcro To Keep Your Gear In Place

Home Recording 1 Comment

OK, I admit it: I tend to be compulsively neat. Not to the point of mania, mind you, but I do like to tie up my cables in a harness, arrange my gear neatly, and replace my guitar strings in alphabetical order. (OK, I was kidding about that last one.)

Just as duct tape is a key tool for repairing all manner of things, for me those little Velcro squares you see in office supply departments are a “magic” solution to keeping small items in place that otherwise tend to go astray and become part of what recording engineers call “a big tangle of cables and stuff.”

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Analyze Your Spectrum For A Better Mix

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When we mix a song, one of the things we are always listening for is tonal balance - that’s right, the old bass & treble bit. Too much bass and it’s boomy or bottom-heavy. Too much midrange and it’s squawky or boxy. Not enough treble and it’s muffled or dull.

Of course, problems like this are relatively easy to hear, diagnose, and fix with a bit of EQ. Drop that bass, boost that treble! But what about subtler problems? What about cases where you know there’s something wrong with the EQ but you aren’t sure just what? No problem! Riding to the rescue is the spectrum analyzer, which allows you to see what’s going on with your EQ, so that you can fix the sound.

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Let A “Cue” Track Be Your Guide

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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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Missing the User Manual? Find It Online!

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

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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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A Low-Cost Carrying Case For Your Recorder

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As long as you keep your multitrack recorder safely ensonced in your basement studio, perhaps taking it upstairs to record a piano part every now and then, you really don’t need to think much about its safe transportation. But what if you decide to take it on-site somewhere to record your band playing live? Or what if the local community singing group asks you to record one of their concerts so they can make a CD?

You could just set the unit carefully on the back seat of the car when you drive to the gig, and it would probably be OK. But if you want to be sure about it, or if it looks like you are going to be going places with your recorder fairly often, you are going to want to put it in something. If nothing else, this will make it easier to get the thing from your parking place to the recording area!

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Snarled? Use Cable Harnesses In Your Home Studio

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tips on home recording photoBack in my Wonder Years (actually more like the mid-70s) I worked as an electronics engineer for a government systems contractor. (You didn’t think I made a living playing music, did you?) The projects I worked on involved racks of equipment, mostly “homebrew,” with all kinds of lights and knobs on the front panel and a lot of wiring between units on the backside.

While we were developing and trouble-shooting a system, the various wires and cables in the back could go any which way, but when we prepared a final prototype all of the wiring was grouped into “harnesses,” sets of cables with a cable tie around them every 6 to 12 inches that could be neatly routed around the backplane as a single unit. A similar idea pertains to the wiring in your car, wherein harnessed sets of mystery cables can be seen wending their way hither and yon.

The overlap between my old systems projects and a home recording studio is obvious. After all, a home studio also consists of a set of equipment with lights and knobs on the front and interconnecting cables on the back. So would a similar approach to cabling be appropriate?

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Cover up your studio stuff!

Home Recording 1 Comment

One of the biggest threats to your studio equipment, and your instruments, comes from a humble source: good old-fashioned dust. This invisible menace can make your faders fickle and your knobs noisy with the passage of time. It’s a miracle substance that can work its way into the tiniest imaginable crevices, borne on unseen currents of air, attacking your gear day by day!

Do you see those spaces between the keys of your keyboard? And the spaces around the fader shafts of your mixer? To a piece of dust, these are huge portals to the inner workings of your equipment. The consequences of an infiltration can be major. How are you going to turn that guitar up for a lead part during a mixdown if the fader for that channel makes a loud SCRZCHCH noise as you move it?

A related problem that you may or may not have at your place is animal hair, blobs of fur that fairly leap off of Fluffy or Fido and make a beeline for your mixer controls. And please don’t tell me you let your pet sleep on your gear just because it’s warm! Pets and electronics make a bad combination. I once saw the inside of a VCR I owned whose ventilation fan had sucked in enough cat hair to make a whole ‘nother kitten. It wasn’t pretty. (And the VCR never worked again.)

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