RECORDING: Things you probably don’t need to use
Happy holidays, gang.
As I record music, I find that sometimes, certain pieces of gear hinder my progress, more than help it. You might be using the same pieces of gear, with worse results than without.
Here’s a short list:
1. A hardware compressor. Despite me having a great, USA-made hardware compressor, I find that it makes vocal tracking sound worse (and sound clipped, even without the waveform visually clipping) than without. Don’t worry, I’ve set everything totally right and it’s in the correct order in my effects chain. But, for some damn reason, it sounds like crap when I am tracking vocals live, whether it’s my vocals, or tracking other people. Do you NEED one? Probably not.
2. An expensive mic. Neumann makes a mic called the TLM-103 (it’s about $1200). A lot of the “pro” YouTube musicians out there tend to use it. I’ve tried it for a solid week (borrowed from friend) and did a lot of A/B comparison recording, and I think it sounds like a tinny piece of garbage. I honestly prefer the sound of my MXL v67g (sub-$100 Chinese condenser mic). I’ve said it to countless people… you don’t need an expensive mic. Order of importance: quality of performer, quality of song, quality of audio interface, quality of mic.
3. Expensive cymbals (for the drummers). The other day I received a demo recording from a student who attends the school I teach at, who’s been experimenting with his own music for many months. He’s recorded his (admittedly) crappy drumkit, with the 2-mic method that I demonstrated on my YouTube channel (modified Glyn Johns technique). He doesn’t have great cymbals, and complains the kit sounds like crap. As I listened the demo in my car, I was like “Whoa. This sounds really good.” I’ve recorded stuff with my kit and $250-300 cymbals, and hated the sound. Whatever he has… whatever he’s using… he should stick with it. #1 it saves money, and #2, it sounds great and gets the job done.
4. An expensive acoustic guitar. I know a few people who own $2000 Taylor acoustics, two of which I’ve recorded at my studio. And then, I know some students who own those HPL Martins (made from recycled materials). Those Martins sound like a million bucks to my ears, truly (and I’m probably going to pick one up soon). I have an $800 Yamaha acoustic that I basically hate the sound of, even though it’s almost 20 years old (and acoustic guitars usually sound better with age). I also have a $300 2012 Takamine that in my opinion, is one of the best-sounding guitars I’ve ever played (I recorded quite a few songs with it, in recent months). Do you need an $8000 Taylor, or a $6000 Martin? No. Oh, and another example– my roommate/friend received an Alvarez acoustic for free years ago, as it had a crack in it, and his neighbor couldn’t sell it even for $50. Now, about 15 years later, he plays the Alvarez all the time, and man, that guitar sounds lovely. He put a Fishman-style pickup in it and it records beautifully and stays in tune wonderfully. The crack has never gotten bigger or anything. Perfect-sounding guitar… old as hell, cracked, and sounds gorgeous recorded. Here’s a video of a dude doing a demo of the Martin 000x1AE (the most affordable full-sized Martin acoustic). Tell me this doesn’t sound damn amazing:
5. A real grand or upright piano. I’ve used countless sampled pianos throughout the years, from Steinberg’s “The Grand”, to Synthology’s “Ivory”, to ArtVista Virtual Grand, and most recently– EZ Keys “Upright” and “Grand” pianos, by Toontrack. In my opinion, they’re all perfect, and deliver the sound/vibe you need. My favorite these days is the Upright Piano by EZKeys. You don’t need to mic a real grand piano (plus it’s a pain in the ass), and chances are, the sampled pianos are going to sound better. Check the video out (by the way, you DON’T have to use the pre-made parts/loops. You can just play the piano live, via MIDI.)
6. “Real” drums. I’ve gotten a complaint recently, from a songwriter who didn’t like that I was using Toontrack’s Superior Drummer 2.0 for drum arrangements of her songs. She said they weren’t “real.” They are more real and better-sounding than miking a real kit. I explained to her that these companies go to pro studios (legendary studios), and pro engineers and drum techs tune the drums, and painstakingly mic them, just as if a real band was to record an album there. Then, a pro drummer hits each piece of the kit over 1,000 times, from extremely light, to extremely hard. They hit various parts of the head, or the cymbal, and each hit is meticulously recorded and mixed by the engineer. What you get is professionally-recorded drum performances than can be played with a midi controller or keyboard, or, you can use thousands of loops. So nothing is more “real”, than using these drum samples. Who has the money to go to a million-dollar studio, pay $150/hr to record their drumset, and be stuck with recordings, and not being able to change the beats/performances after the fact? Superior 2.0 gives you complete creative flexibility, and it’s especially useful for people who may not be able to play drums at all. It costs around $300 (or less), and expansion kits can be bought from $40-80 each (and they always have sales, from major online retailers, etc). That’s a hell of a deal, considering the quality and flexibility you get. Yes, I do mic my acoustic kit sometimes (depending on my needs), but 98% of the drums in my recording are from Toontrack’s Superior 2.0. Watch videos and learn about it at www.toontrack.com. And check out this video to show the process:
7. Real vintage synths. Over the last 10 years, I’ve owned a Roland Juno-60 five separate times (yes, five times). The first time I bought it, it was $350, and had a broken pitch bend/mod stick. Sold that, bought it again 3 years later for about $500 (mint condition). Repeat the process a few times, upping the price each time. Last one I bought for about $650 in 2011. Turned around and sold it for $850 in 2012. Why did I keep buying and selling it? Because I kept finding virtual instrument versions which rivaled it, for either free, or a fraction of the cost. Bonus- the virtual instrument has complete midi flexibility (quantizing, arpeggio sync, etc). The real Juno-60 does not have this, and needs a $300 retrofit kit, on top of the cost of the synth (which averages at $1000 used, these days). At first, I was using the Togu Audio Line “Uno-62”, which is a freeware emulation of the Roland Juno-60. Then, I discovered his commercial synth, the “Uno-LX” version 1, and now version 2. Once I routed my M-Audio Oxygen 49 midi controller to control most of the most-used parameters on the Uno-LX (sliders and buttons controlling the synth/arpeggiator stuff, and the 8 knobs controlling the ADSR envelope, and other functions), it is the exact same sound as a real Juno-60, with so much more midi capability and functionality. Cost? Around $50. You do not need a real vintage synth. They’re cool, aesthetically, but if you’re on a budget, these emulations are exactly the same. Listen to hardware/software comparisons here: http://kunz.corrupt.ch/products/tal-u-no-lx