Ask Andy

Basic steps on how to get a decent recording

Basic steps on how to get a decent recording:

IMO (and I think many would agree) your DAW makes no difference at all. Think of a DAW as just a tape recorder that doesn’t add hiss or hum to a recording.

to get good recordings you need:

1) a decent singer or an instrumentalist who can play
2) a “good enough” microphone. For many the Gauge ECM-87 is a good buy at $150 (and less if you buy from them at the Rally). There are many others and sure if you blow big $$$ on a mic it may have certain characteristics that are very desirable, but often you need good listening skills and know what to listen for. For a lot of sources like an electric guitar amp or a snare drum, the Shure SM-57 at +/- $100 is used in just about every studio out there. The Audio Technica stuff is well regarded in general although whether the 2020 is better than the ECM-87 its hard to say (or vice versa).
3) a good enough preamp / Audio digital convertor / computer interface – this is usually (for low end $$$) all incorporated into one – and while again spending more cash might bring desirable characteristics (more hi conversion, preamps with “character”, other bells and whistles like running fancy plugins like the UAD stuff, extra headphone outputs etc) its again a question of “can you actually hear the difference” and does it warrant the extra $$$. The Focusrite Scarlett series seem to work pretty well for a lot of people for not much $$$ and its cross platform (PC / Mac).
4) a computer with a DAW – and really PC’s and Macs both work great, and the DAW software really doesn’t matter at all to the quality of the recordings – but you may prefer certain things about the way one works over another. Some DAW’s only work on Mac like Logic.

Now – there are a couple of considerations to get low noise and good fidelity:

Recording right beside your computer when the fan is blowing and kicking up a lot of noise (or your refrigerator for that matter) would be a bad idea if you want to get low noise.

To get away from the noise:

1) move the mic physically away from the noise source
2) change the direction of the mic compared to the noise (most mics have at least 1 directional pickup pattern like cardioid, and changing the angle of the mic can put that noise in the “null” area which doesn’t pickup much sound.
3) if its AC or other mechanical noise – turn it off while you do the take
4) balance distance from the mic with desired sound. Putting your voice or guitar right in front of the mic will lend a very close sound, and reject room and ambient noise. Putting the mic 3 feet away from a softly picked acoustic guitar might give a nice vibe for the style of song you are working on, but to get a decent sound level, you might have to crank the gain on the preamp in your interface and cheap interfaces often have noisy preamps when you crank the gain to 75% or greater. You will also be putting out less volume on the guitar compared to the ambient / room noise, so depending on how much noise there is, you may or may not be happy with the recording.
5) use some kind of acoustic treatment or barrier – for some building a “hut” out of duvets or blankets around the mic can help. Or make, buy, borrow ready made acoustic panels (like ones made from OC 703 insulation of 2″ or greater thickness) and make a little “booth” or buy a ready made unit like the SE REflexion filter which will put a barrier between the mic and the noise source. Carpets on the floor of really reflective rooms can help cut down on bounce into the mic, as will recording in rooms with high ceilings.

anyways, some thoughts – hope it helps.

One Response to Basic steps on how to get a decent recording

  • Paul Feak (feaker)

    Good stuff Andy

    I am not real happy with my AKG 414 2 The more I read, the more I find that it is not the best for male vocals. There doesn’t seem to be much in the middle price range. Most mic’s are 100-150 bucks and then 2,000. I do like my AKG for acoustic guitar. I also think the preamp (with only two channels) with studio one is not the best. It has detents in the channel volume control to make it hard to tweak. I also have a universal audio I believe a 610 that I never use. Here I am babbling again.

    Thanks again


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