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Saturday, December 13, 2008

The 10 commandments of home recording

These are truly the rules to record by

COMMANDMENT NO. 1: DETERMINE your goals and don’t be distracted from them. Is your goal to be a songwriter or a performer? If so, don't waste all your time trying to become a recording engineer. Every hour spent trying to figure out your recording software is an hour that could have been spent writing songs or practicing your instrument. Go ahead and learn a little bit of recording technique and get a bit of gear, but don't go overboard on the purchases and don't spend all your time figuring out how best to mic a guitar cabinet. And, if you are in a band and want to build a studio to save money, forget about it. Rehearse. Get your songs down, and then go into a real studio with a real engineer. The results will be much better and it will be cheaper.

COMMANDMENT NO. 2: CHOOSE knowledge over gear. It's far too easy to get caught up in buying a bunch of gear to make your recordings sound better. In order of importance, the things that will make your recordings sound better are: Better songs, better players, better recording techniques and, lastly, better gear. If you're just the engineer, there is often not much you can do to improve the first two (you take what you get). Consequently, technique should be your primary focus. You can get some pretty damn good results with mediocre gear if you know how to use it. That said, don't buy into the people who say that gear doesn't matter. Gear does matter. Good gear can make your life a lot easier. It doesn't matter nearly as much as how you use it though.

COMMANDMENT NO. 3: SIMPLICITY is golden. Always set your equipment up in a manner that will allow you to work most easily. Take your time setting up mics, and getting the sounds right, but once you've done that the session should run smoothly. If the artist has to wait too long between takes or it takes you too long to setup a punch-in, figure out a better way to set up your system. Otherwise, creativity will be disrupted. Also, don't assume that a computer-based DAW is the way to go. There are a lot of advantages to a DAW as far as power and flexibility, but there are a lot of disadvantages as far as simplicity (or lack of it) is concerned.

COMMANDMENT NO. 4: THE SOUND is everything. What does it matter that a mic pre or a compressor has every feature imaginable on it if it sounds like crap? Sound first. Everything else a distant second.

COMMANDMENT NO. 5: DO NOT put any stock in what a magazine article says about recording equipment. You've read good reviews on something? That means absolutely nothing. Every review of everything is always good. Check it out for yourself. Have you ever read a bad review? Similarly, don't listen to what the salesman from your local "music supermart" tells you. Ninety-five percent of them know less than you about the stuff they’re selling.

COMMANDMENT NO. 6: FORGET everything you think you know about "cold, harsh, digital sound." If your recordings sound cold and harsh, the two most likely suspects are your microphones and your A/D converters, not the fact that you are recording to a digital medium. Digital can sound great as long as you have your recording (and playback) chains in order.

COMMANDMENT NO. 7: FORGET everything you think you know about "tubes." Much of the most cherished and sought-after recording gear of the past (Neve, API, Trident, etc.) are solid-state designs, not tube. Most any tube preamp for under $800 is just a solid-state preamp with some peripheral tube circuitry (often running low plate voltages) that adds a dose of muck to the sound. Quality tube amps do not muddy the sound. Nor are they any better than quality solid state amps, just different (often imperceptibly). And, for God's sake, don't think that "tube" gear is the solution to "cold, harsh, digital sound" (see above).

COMMANDMENT NO. 8: BEWARE of false economy. It's usually cheaper in the long run to buy something a bit better (more expensive) than you figure you need right now.

COMMANDMENT NO. 9: DYNAMIC mics are your friends. Why do you think you have to use a "large diaphragm condenser" on eveything? Most likely because that's what the ads say. Most of the best dynamic mics in the world (i.e. the ones all the big studios use all the time) cost less than even the cheap large diaphragm condensers. Use dynamics. Try them on anything, especially things you don't think they'll work on. And don’t forget about ribbon mics. They’re dynamics too, and most of them sound "oh so sweet"!

COMMANDMENT NO. 10: EXPERIMENT. The absolute best way to learn is to try things. And never be afraid to try something bizarre. It's highly unlikely that anyone will get hurt (unless you plug the output of a power amp into something other than a speaker - don’t do that).

--Jordan Slator

1 comment:

bigredone said...

This is an awesome list. thanks!