1. Don’t skimp on microphones!
Start out with at least one good condenser microphone that you can use to capture vocals and acoustic instruments.
I recommend the AKG 3000B. If you can’t afford $300 for the 3000B mic, then go with the Rode NT1 or the AKG C2000B (~$200 each) or the low-end Rode NT3 ($150). If you can afford more than $300, then see the book text for recommendations. If you are going to be recording high sound pressure levels (e.g., guitar amplifiers), then you can’t beat the Shure SM-57 dynamic mic for about $80.
2. Spend your effects dollars in this order:
first a good reverb, then a stereo compressor and finally a stereo noise gate. For a multi-effects processor, you can’t go wrong with any of the Lexicon units.
3. If you have a home studio, then you should have a FMR RNC-1773 stereo compressor in it.
Nothing can compare to it sonically for under $1000, yet the unit only costs $180. It has a special mode called Super Nice Compression that serially connects 3 separate compression elements within the unit to avoid the typical noise pumping problems common to most compressors. This is a great tool to use during your mastering stage. You can buy the RNC-1773 directly from the manufacturer at www.fmraudio.com. RNC stands for Really Nice Compressor!
4. Don’t skimp on audio cables!
If you do, you will forever be chasing phantom noises, crackles, pops and intermittent connections around your studio instead of making and recording music. I have found that the best source of relatively low-cost cables is Gateway Electronics (seewww.gatewayelex.com/audcable.htm). The Gateway Electronics audio cables are so good that they can pass video signals into the MHz range! You can actually use them for video cables to send composite video from your DVD or VCR to your TV.
5. Invest in an audio patch panel.
A patch panel is a central point to which all audio cables connect in your system. As you change connections around in your studio, you just move patch cables on the patch panel instead of chasing cables around your studio and crawling behind equipment to find the proper connection points. This is an incredible time saver and a great way to troubleshoot signal flow problems in your system. See the text for various troubleshooting techniques.
6. Use multiple monitoring methods when mixing down and mastering your songs.
Invest in a good set of headphones. You want a pair that is as neutral as possible and that is made for the studio. Headphones made for consumer listening will color the sound, so avoid them. Also, set up a pair of close field monitors as explained in the text. This will allow you to reduce the coloration effects of your studio room. When you mix down or master your songs, listen to the mixes on a wide variety of transducers (your headphones, the close field monitors, your living room stereo, your car stereo, a cheap boombox in mono, etc.). This will allow you to get the best overall mix that works in most situations. Check your mix in mono (not just stereo) to make sure that elements of the mix don’t simply disappear due to cancellation.
7. Should you buy analog recorders or digital recorders?
The bottom line is that you can make excellent recordings using either format. Analog recorders have more maintenance headaches and tape hiss to contend with, but you can find used analog recorders all over for great prices now. Many people prefer the “warmer sound” of analog recordings. Refer to the book for used equipment sources.
Digital recorders can be standalone units or they can be incorporated into your PC or Mac computer. Recorders integrated into computers usually have software applications that provide fantastic editing capabilities that are hard to do without once you get used to them. Digital recorders in computers also usually allow various plug-in software applications that provide huge functionality and flexibility options, and they allow mastering and CD generation without ever leaving the digital domain. Clearly, the market is headed in the digital direction. Make sure you have a capable computer before you head down this road, however!
8. Want to learn more about tape recording?
Get yourself a free subscription to the magazine Tape Op. Yes, I said free. Tape Op is a well-written magazine that discusses all things related to analog recording including equipment, techniques, musician and engineer interviews, music reviews, plus they preach the do-it-yourself approach. Direct your browser to www.tapeop.com and get signed up now.
9. When initially recording your tracks, always print the hottest (loudest) signal possible to the track, but avoid distorting the signal.
This will allow you to maximize the signal-to-noise ratio of the signal. You want the signal to be loud enough to mask any noise in the system but you don’t want it to be so loud that the signal distorts or clips. There is most definitely a way to optimize all of the signal levels throughout your system; it is called gain staging. If you don’t know about gain staging, see the book text (it is too lengthy to explain here).
10. Don’t immediately reach for the EQ knob, and don’t overdo it with the reverb.
These are two of the biggest newbie mistakes. Rather than fiddling with EQ (equalization) if you don’t like the way something sounds, try changing the source. If you are miking a guitar for example, try moving the mic around to alternate positions relative to the acoustic guitar (or amp, if it is an electric guitar). Small adjustments can make huge differences in the sound. If you have a synthesizer sound that is dull, try opening up the filter a little or change the synth patch in some other manner to get the effect you want. To add a nice sweetening to your final mix or to add emphasis to a solo instrument without using EQ, try using one of the BBE Sonic Maximizer or Aphex Aural Exciter processors.