We all want to make better recordings. We pour our hearts out into writing the best songs we can and we want to share them with fans, friends, and family. But there are many factors to making a great recording, some of which just take years and years of doing. This can be frustrating for the new home recording musician as you just don’t have a lot of time to learn. How can you make better recordings right now? In this 2 part post I lay out 8 simple, yet effective recording tips and suggestions to help you capture bigger and better sounding recordings of your songs. Let’s dig in…
1.Replace Your Guitar/Bass Strings And Drum Heads
One of the simplest and most cost effective things you can do to get better guitar, bass, and drum tracks is to change out all your strings and heads before recording. Old strings sound dull and lifeless, the problem is that you are used to the sound if you haven’t changed them in a while. Do yourself a favor and replace the strings before you even press “record.” Your electric guitars will sound fuller and your acoustic will sound brighter, and most importantly you’ll be getting the best out of your instrument before it ever hits Pro Tools. This tip is especially important when recording drums. Take the time to replace each drum head AND tune the drums appropriately before every recording. Your snare will crack, your toms will resonate nicely, and your kick will destroy the bottom end. All the “big boys” do this to get great drum sounds, so should you.
The best way to get a good recording is to make sure the source you are recording sounds it’s best. Seems simple, but honestly this is the most overlooked recording step. People just want to jump right in to picking the best mics and using the coolest recording technique and then using fancy mixing plugins to make their drums and guitars sound huge! When in reality they actually aren’t getting a good drum or guitar sound in real life yet. So first things first…change your strings and drum heads before you even fire up your computer. You’ll be glad you did.
2.Use a Close Mic Technique
When recording in a home studio you don’t have the luxury of perfectly acoustically treated rooms, floating floors and all. In fact you are usually working with less than optimal conditions (i.e a loud refrigerator in the kitchen, cars and lawnmowers outside the window, a/c vents blowing, and even computer fan noise). To help combat these extra sounds we need to implement a close mic recording technique. It works just like it sounds. When recording vocals you get right up on the mic (no further than 6 inches). Same goes for acoustic guitar. When recording a guitar amp, put the mic right up on the grill or within 1 to 2 inches.
What we need to remember is that a microphone is like an ear without a brain. It hears everything equally. So in order to get the mic to “only hear” what we want it to hear (i.e. the guitar track or vocal you are currently recording) then we need that sound source to be the most dominant thing in the mic. To do this, we get pretty dang close to the mic. If you listen back to a soloed vocal track and still hear faint traffic sounds in the background, don’t worry, you most likely won’t hear any of that in the mix with all the other tracks.
3.Double Your Guitar and Vocal Parts
One of the oldest tricks in the book is to double up a part to make it sound bigger. This is most useful for guitar and vocal tracks. The idea is simple. If you record a guitar riff in Pro Tools and it sounds great, then great. But if you then record another take of that exact same guitar part on a separate track something awesome will happen. You will have two identical parts that are the slightest bit off from one another (because you can’t play the same part 100% the same each time) usually by just milliseconds. This plays a trick on the human ear making it sound bigger and fuller. What’s helpful is to take these two “identical” tracks and pan them apart left and right in the stereo spectrum and you now have a big wall of sound guitar part.
You can do similar things with your vocal parts. Simply record a second or third take to match up with your vocals, and use it creatively. Sometimes it helps to double up the lead vocal in the chorus for the “hook” of the song. Makes the vocals standout there. Sometimes it’s cool to double up just a word or phrase here and there for emphasis. Some artists (like the Foo Fighters) use this technique for every single vocal line in all of their songs, just for effect. Either way you use doubling, don’t take the technique lightly. It will instantly enhance your tracks.
4.Record To a Click Track
I know that no one likes to use click tracks. They supposedly steal the “soul” out of your song and force you to create boring, in tempo music that has no creative ebb and flow. Well I hate to burst your bubble, but recording to a click track is one of the smartest things you can do to ensure you get quality recordings that sound professional. There a couple of reasons why:
First, since you are recording at home and probably playing most if not all of the instruments yourself (or your band can’t record all at once) you will need a reference point in your session. Click tracks help you stay in time with the whole band during intros, outros, breaks in the song, tempo changes, etc. Let’s face it, no matter how well your tracks are recorded, if your band isn’t in sync with each other than no tone in the world will help it. Second, click tracks help you bring in song enhancements like professional loops, and time delay effects that will line up perfectly with your live recordings. Even if you don’t think you will use any loops in your recording now, why not leave yourself the option? Without a click track (i.e. a set tempo) it will be impossible to bring in loops or samples without everything getting off.
And finally, recording to a click track makes you a better musician. Most music sounds best when played at a steady, predefined tempo. That is why orchestras have conductors, to keep all the players in time. The best musicians and bands play so tightly and consistently to a tempo (even if it’s in their heads) and that adds an extra layer of professional polish to their songs. By using a click track you will learn how to keep steady timing in your head and your playing/performing will get better. Trust me on this one.
These 4 tips alone will help you get much better recordings right away. Don’t underestimate their simplicity. Remember, recording isn’t complicated, but you do have to know what you are doing. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post for some more great tips to help you save time and get to making better recordings…now!