Category Archives: microphones

RECORDING: Free Online Course that is actually GOOD

https://soundfly.com/courses/demo-recording-101

 

From Soundfly…. I recently discovered this course while researching some material for my 9th annual songwriting/recording summercamp at the school I teach at in the Philly ‘burbs, and I think this course is really, really helpful for recording a demo at home and on the cheap…… ALL instruments, too. The entire course is two and a half hours, and well worth your time.

Do check it out, and check out more of what Soundfly.com has to offer… all of their courses are long and useful, not just this one. Really dope site.

 

 

RECORDING: Trim the fat

What do I mean by this?

Stuff everyone knows, but what no one does: stop buying shit. Stop assuming the next piece of gear will make your recordings more professional and completely make your songwriting a thousand times better.

I think back to 2002-2004. I bought SO much shit.

I got a steal on a Novation Nova IIx synthesizer in late 2002. It was $999 from Sam Ash. Retailed at the time about $2500. I have no idea why it was so cheap… maybe a closeout or something. But I bought it. I loved it. I used it for a cool pad sound in the Beauty’s Confusion song “Blue Deluge”, in the chorus. And that’s all I used it for.

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A thousand dollars for a cool patch sound, and an arpeggiator that was extremely fun to fool around with. The patches were all insanely fun. It was a great analog-modeling synth.

Luckily, I was able to sell it for about $1250 after getting bored with it, a few months later.

I also remember, a few months before picking up the Nova IIx, I bought an E-Mu Proteus 2000 rackmount for $800 from Sam Ash. I even bought a $200 “super-realistic strings” chip upgrade, that allowed the rackmount to add a bunch of sounds to it. $1000 for sounds that ultimately sounded pretty damn dated, a few years later.

proteus_2000
The rackmount soon grew to be a pain in the butt, so I sold it at a loss, and instead, bought the E-Mu Proteus Keys, which was the “keyboard” version of the Proteus 2000:

This keyboard moved with me to the Philadelphia area, in 2004. I sold it about a year later, for around $300 (with the $200 string chip).

You want to hear the best part? Several years ago, E-Mu released the Proteux VX virtual instrument for free, with all the sounds from the Proteus 2000. A mere 65MB download. And it sounds exactly like the hardware.

facepalm

In late 2002, I also bought a used Fender Rhodes Mark I Stage 73 (had to drive three hours to pick it up). It cost only $450. I sold it about a year later for exactly the same price (someone drove two hours to pick it up). I loved that thing. They now sell for $1500 used. Should have hung onto that one. But I’ve found that cheap or free virtual rhodes instrument VSTs/plugins sound as good as the real thing.

I bought a Roland Juno-60 analog synthesizer five separate times in my life, and sold it five separate times. First one I got for only $300 (broken joystick/pitch bend). Sold for $400. The others, I bought for slightly more and sold for slightly more about 6 months to a year later. Last one I bought in 2011 cost me only $650 (locally through craigslist). Turned around and sold it for $900 five months later (also through craigslist). I’ve found the TAL U-No62 virtual synth, and its big brother, TAL U-NO-LX sound EXACTLY like the real thing. The first thing is free. The big brother’s only $40 or so. Get a cool midi keyboard that has assignable knobs, buttons and sliders, and you can control every parameter of the virtual version, and hot damn, it almost feels like and plays like the real thing.

I have a habit of doing this a lot. Oftentimes it’s just to make ends meet and pay bills. Sometimes it’s all about checking out gear and messing with it, and then parting ways with it with someone more excited and/or experienced.

Since I play everything, I’m prone to buying a wider variety of gear. But…

These days, my studio is so damn stripped-down, it’s ridiculous. I own a handful of gear, but only the shit I truly, truly need.

In the early 2000s, I collected synths, almost… Juno-60, Casio CZ-1000, Roland Juno-1 and Juno-2, Proteus Keys PK-6, Kawai K4, Roland D-50…. what the hell was the point? None of that shit was helping me finish songs.

I owned one microphone (one) from early 2003 to 2009. An AKG C2000B. I still use it. Past few years, I’ve bought more and more mics. They’re always useful.

Keyboard-wise? An M-Audio Oxygen 61, to control ALL of my virtual synths (most of which are freeware/great-sounding). The other keyboard I own is a Yamaha P-60 digital piano (weighted keys). I teach on it and love the feel of it. I’ve owned the same one since 2005.

Drums? I have a Pacific CX kit I play out with (white marine pearl). Got it on trade. I record all my acoustic drum stuff with a Sonor Safari bop kit. My cymbals are cheap, but awesome-sounding Paiste 404 crashes and a ride, and New Beat hi-hats by Zildjian. I own a second Sonor Safari, that I converted into an electronic/triggered kit on the cheap.

Guitars? Not many. A couple acoustics (Martin and Yamaha). I have an Agile Les Paul clone ($300 with custom Seymor Duncan pickups), and a Gibson SG Special. I used to own a Fender strat, which I miss. I have a Fender jazz bass for all my bass needs. I have a modest pedalboard with relatively cheap pedals. I have a Vox practice amp, and a Fender Deluxe Reverb ’68 reissue, for live use.

I have your typical “must-haves” for any home studio in 2015/2016– a good USB audio interface, studio monitors, dual flat-panel widescreen  displays, mic stands, different mics, a harmonizer, cheap mic preamp, and a midi drum pad (Maschine MK2)… and that M-Audio Oxygen 61.

That’s it.

Anything else is just not necessary.

Trim the fat. Utilize negative space in your home studio. Basically everything you need to record good music can be found “in the box” (on your computer). All of my effects (reverb, delay, compression, etc)… all “in the box” (mostly the stock plugins included with Reaper 4 and Reaper 5). The less options, the better.

It took me like 15 years to realize I didn’t need most of the shit I bought. Don’t be stupid like me. Research, and buy only what you need. Even if you’re a multi-instrumentalist…. you don’t need much.

 

 

 

 

 

RECORDING: Vocal Recording Masterclass

via SoundOnSound magazine…. this is without a doubt, the best article I’ve ever read on vocal recording in a home studio, from start to finish. Seriously, this is it:

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jun06/articles/voxrecording.htm

RECORDING: Best Kept Gear Secrets

This entry will probably raise the price of all this stuff I’m about to mention, but here goes, anyway…

CAD M179 mic
Sells new for about $120. I have read that pro engineers LOVE this mic and it is extremely versatile. Haven’t used it, but no one has a bad thing to say about this mic.

MCA SP-1 mic
Sells new for about $60. Apparently it is one of the most-used inexpensive mics in studio situations. From lead vocals to drum overheads, the SP-1 is a go-to mic.

Behringer ADA8000
Can be found new for only $180, or used for $125. Need 8 more channels for your home studio, via ADAT/optical? Nothing can be found cheaper. It has 8 XLR ins and 8 XLR outs (but you don’t need the outs if you’re using the optical connection for the 8 additional inputs). It’s relatively quiet, as long as you don’t push the gain too hot (sounds like ass at near-max gain). A lot of audio interfaces come with optical inputs these days, including the Focusrite Scarlett 18i8.

Focusrite Scarlett Solo
Sells new for only $69. A 2-input USB audio interface with phantom power? And by Focusrite? There isn’t a better deal out there, if you’re getting into home recording. Good friend of mine calls it the “cute little hamburger”. It rules.

MXL V67G
Best condenser mic for the price, in my opinion. $95. It sounds great on female or male vocals, and acoustic guitars, too!

RECORDING: Acoustic panel construction & benefits

These are relatively easy to make, and they WORK.

You can pick up a 6-pack of 4×2 feet, 3-inch thick Roxul (“rockwool”) from basically anywhere, online… for about $20-40 per pack, depending on where you look.

Pick up a few pieces of wood as your frame (have them cut them to size for you, at the hardware store), and pick up some corner braces as the video shows, then some cheap fabric, and go to town. It would probably take you about a day or so, to make 6-10 panels… and if you want to make them really nice like the final ones shown in the video above, you can put some nicer, patterned fabric above the main stuff.

Why should you make these?

Well, again… they work. Some people go crazy with buying that Auralex foam stuff… but it’s too expensive and doesn’t do nearly as good of a job as these do, especially when tracking vocals, or acoustic guitars. Sure, the Auralex stuff looks amazing, but it just doesn’t work as well as these do.

Some people also go nuts with those shields… that run from $100 and way above that…. that attach to mic stands. The most famous one being the original Studio Electronics Reflexion Filter ($299). I’ve owned it, and I was not impressed. I’ve also owned other cheaper ones, which worked better, but still not like these things you can make, for a few bucks.

Here’s a photo of two panels I use (out of a total of 12 I made) to track my vocals… they’re not even attached, though I could hinge them if I wanted to. They’re just leaning on each other, against a wall, sitting on a keyboard bench, with a mic stand behind the bench, to secure it in the dead center of the panels. And the mic wasn’t even attached yet… after I put this together, I just said to myself “sweet! look at this shit”, so I took a photo. Another cool thing is… without the piano bench, this “booth” could be used, sitting down, as well as standing (especially if you used a “round base” mic stand, instead of the tripod-leg variation):

That’s a great use for them, but also, you can hang them on the wall (as is their main intention and use… to absorb bouncing sound waves and reflections from your recording environment.

Do yourself a favor and build these…. you don’t have to be very handy to build these… I suck at building things, but I did ok with these. 🙂

RECORDING: Choosing a vocal mic

So, I’m never really fully satisfied with the way my vocals sound in the studio. I’ve tried various mics through the years:

2002-2010 – AKG C2000B condenser
2011 to present – MXL V67G (the green/gold condenser mic), MXL v63m (Mogami-wired or whatever), Shure SM7B (meh…), Shure SM57 (didn’t really work for me… works on some voices, though)

I have also gone through several mic pres, including the Golden Age Pre73 MKII ($350), Focusrite ISAOne ($500), and Great River ME-1NV ($1100). Never been impressed with the performance of any of these. Maybe the Golden Age Pre73 MKII the most… but it sounded weird when connected to the Line In of my main audio interface (M-Audio Delta 66 with OMNI I/O breakout box). It worked fine with the standard Delta breakout box, though. I don’t know… I just didn’t have the patience to fully troubleshoot.

When I connected the Great River the same way, it was absolutely fine. But for $1100? I sold it a few weeks later at a loss, for a few hundred less.

I do a lot of A/B comparisons when trying to mix my songs…. mainly, I’ll drop a song file from some established band into my arrangement… Go back and forth from soloing that track, to listening to my mix… setting markers in Reaper to jump to, where the singing is on my song, and where the singing is, on theirs.

I can never get my vocals to simply “sit right” in the mix. I feel I have a very bassy/warm voice… and even though the MXL mics provide a high boost (cheap Chinese mics do, to make themselves sound “better”), it’s still a bit too bassy and warm. I tweak the EQ to my liking, and it helps a bit. But I don’t know. Overall, I just hate the sound of my vocals. Guess I’m like John Lennon in that way…. never happy with the dry sound, so he always asked the engineer to effect it in some way (slapback delay, chorus, heavy reverb, overdrive, etc).

Dear readers, I am curious. What vocal mic do YOU use on your recordings? Are you male/female? High or low singer? Breathy voice or chesty voice? What have you used that you did not enjoy? Do you hate the way you sound?