Welcome to another installment of “DAW University”. Class is now in session! Last time we looked at proper session workflow so you don’t lose your precious tracks. Today we’re going to go over the simple magic of having custom templates in your recording software. Whether you want to do some songwriting, record your band, or even do a remix, having pre-built templates to start from will save you tons of time, energy, and keep your creative juices flowing and uninterrupted. Let’s begin…
You’ve heard me say it before and I will continue to harp on this, “It doesn’t take much to make a great recording at home.” People are recording songs on laptops with minimal gear (even on cell phones). Today I wanted to feature a cool video from Apogee Digital. These guys make premium converters and other high end gear for the studio, but they also make the super popular (and portable) Duet firewire interface for the mac.
Their latest interface is a simple one channel USB version, aptly called “One”, and is making a big splash in the audio world for not only its quality mic pre and converter, but its built in condensor microphone. That’s right, this interface actually comes with a studio mic inside. There are a ton of videos on Apogee’s site showing you how people are making recordings with this thing, but one stood out to me as a great example of using mimial gear to make great recordings.
Watch as these guys record guitar, bass, vocals, and even drums all with a one channel USB interface and the free DAW Garageband. Enjoy!
This video reminds us of some very important truths in recording: simplicity is a good thing, mic placement is super important, and the actual song and performance has to be good inorder for the recording to be great. If we simply brush off these points then we miss out. We begin a rat race of buying gear in search of that illusive “sound”.
Why not save yourself some time and money and start with what you have? Make a lot of bad music until you learn what it takes to make it better. It’s how all the great ones learn, from doing.
If you are into the world of Pro Tools then you’re aware that Avid has dropped some serious hardware updates to their product line over the past 2 months. It started with brand new HD interfaces, then moved on to a revamped line of Mbox hardware, and most recently last week we had the unveiling of a new version of Pro Tools HD…the “native” version.
Why Pro Tools|HD Native?
Pro Tools comes in two general flavors: you have Pro Tools|HD, the high end powerhouse version that combines Pro Tools software with PCI cards loaded with DSP chips to handle all the processing, giving you rock solid (and guaranteed) track counts, super low latency, and a ton of power to handle plugins and complex sessions. Then you have the more “home/project studio oriented” Pro Tools|LE and M-Powered versions, which are simply a USB or Firewire interface bundled with almost the identical software as the HD version. Your limited in areas like track count, buses, and some other potential “deal breakers” for some (lack of ADC and I/O limitations).
To get the software, DSP card(s), and HD audio interface needed for a basic Pro Tools|HD system you need about $10,000. To get everything you need for the most affordable LE system you need about $300. Big difference, but then again these are two products aimed at two vary different markets. Most home studio owners are singer/songwriters looking to get professional results with minimal fuss and money. Most pro studios will pay whatever it takes to have super high track counts, I/O, without relying on a firwire or USB connection and yoru computer’s processor to handle it all.
But there are many people who fall somewhere in between the above mentioned extremes. Perhaps a small project studio that doesn’t have a lot of high end clients, but still needs to track bands and do complex mixes. Sure there are the bigger LE and M-Powered interfaces (003, Profire 2626, etc) but many people have hoped for something with more power than the current LE offerings without all the trappings (and price tag) of an HD system. Enter Pro Tools|HD Native.
So What Is It Already?
In a nutshell, Pro Tools HD|Native is simply a version of Pro Tools|HD that has most of the same functionality and power, but costs less. This system consists of a PCI card with DSP (very similar to the HD Accel cards) and your choice of an HD interface. All in all you can get into HD Native for about $6,500. So what is the difference with this setup and an HD rig? For one, Native doesn’t use the proprietary TDM architecture of the current HD line. This means no TDM plugins, just your regular RTAS plugins that us LE and M-Powered users are already familiar with. And of coures the big idea here is that this is a “native” version of Pro Tools meaning your system power is determined by how fast your computer is. So the faster the processor, the more plugins you can run.
To many of us, Pro Tools|HD Native is irrelevant. It costs way more than we are willing (or even should need) to pay. But let’s be honest, most of us don’t need 64 channels of zero latency I/O in a session! This doesn’t mean however that this product release isn’t important. In fact, I believe (and many others smarter than I are saying the same thing) that this launch means two very important things for us LE and M-Powered users:
- Avid is listening to their customers. PT users have asked for a long time for a system priced in between the biggest LE rig ($3000) and a basic HD rig ($10,000). Now we have HD|Native priced right in the middle and really a great compromise for those needing a ton of power not offered by typical native DAWs but not the whole HD enchilada.
- There will be more options for Pro Tools users in the future. I think we have seen more and more of a leaning towards offering PT at many different price points with many different types of hardware. Not every studio has the same needs, and Avid is recognizing that. This HD Native release is great because it is moving away from the old TDM system and is bringing the greatness that is Pro Tools software and matching it up with better interfaces and letting you tap into the power of the latest multi-core processors in today’s computers. Again, all of this is giving more flexibility for Pro Tools to be customized to the individual’s needs and budget.
On The Horizon
New HD interfaces, new LE Mbox interfaces, and now this new HD Native option…this can only mean one thing: the new 004 line of interfaces should be amazing (and out soon) along with major Pro Tools software updates. Avid is on a roll of pure momentum right now. It is launching a new product every month on average for the past 3 months and word has it there will be major stuff announced at this year’s AES in early November. So sit back and watch the magic unfold as we see what Avid has up it’s sleeve next!
When it comes to mixing audio, there are many variables for how the final product will turn out. How good are the recorded tracks? How accurate are your studio monitors? Is your room acoustically treated? How much experience do you have mixing? Etc. But one simple and effective tip I can suggest is simply to mix at a lower volume.
Everything Sounds Good Loud
To be honest we tend to like our mixes when we crank the volume. The drums are hitting hard, the bass seems huge, and the vocals and guitars just soar right out of the speakers. But the moment we turn the mix down in our cars or on our iPods it all falls apart. Things sound weak, flat, and boring. Why? What happens when we mix at higher volumes is we have an inaccurate picture of our mix. Certain frequencies can sound more apparent at higher volumes, and this tricks your ear. If you think the kick drum is coming through just fine then you may not EQ and compress it to actually cut through the mix at a normal listening level and thus it disappears for most listeners.
How Low Should You Go?
So my suggestion to you is this: turn your monitors down to a volume level low enough to allow for light conversation in the room. What ever volume you think wouldn’t overpower you hearing someone else comment on the mix. Use this as a starting point and mix from there. Your tendency will be to want to crank it up to rock out, but fight for as long as you can. Every once in a while you should turn it up just to make sure the bass is working (as it’s hard to get that right at low volumes alone). But for the most part, force yourself to make your mix pop and have punch at a lower volume.
Save Your Ears
The other main benefit to mixing at lower levels is you both protect your hearing and you slow down ear fatigue. This keeps your ears fresh and reliable so you can mix more accurately for longer periods of time. Kind of a no brainer if you ask me! So remember, almost anything sounds great when you crank it. So don’t short change yourself, instead turn your mix down while you work and get it to sound great.
Happy birthday to The Recording Revolution! Today marks one full year of posts, videos, comments, and tutorials all aimed at one thing: helping home studio owners and musicians make better music now! It has truly been an honor and privilege to run this website and to interact with so many of you all across the world. The feedback has been incredibly encouraging as I get to hear how this blog has directly impacted you to help you make better recordings and to save money in the process.
A Taste Of Year One
So to celebrate the special occasion I want to highlight one post from each month of the past year that seemed to be helpful to readers. Please feel free to read over them if you’re newer and leave a comment if you have any thoughts. If it weren’t for the thousands of you who visit this site each month there would be no point to the The Recording Revolution. So happy birthday to the blog, and let’s get excited for year #2!
The Best $100 You Will Spend
Record An Album On Your Phone?
Bad Recording Environment? No Problem
The One Song One Month Challenge
The Complete $300 Starter Studio
What Do You Really Need In Your Studio?
Deadlines: The Key To Productivity
Your Recordings “Unplugged”
The Fastest Way To Clean Up Your Mix
When To Say “No” In The Studio
Become A Better Engineer By Finishing Projects
Stay Up To Date
If you want to stay up to date on all things happening at The Recording Revolution, then be sure to follow me on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to the channel on YouTube. That way every time there is a new article or video tutorial, you’ll be the first to know!
And finally, if you haven’t downloaded your free copy of my super helpful eBook, The #1 Rule of Home Recording, do it now! You won’t regret it. It’s a quick and easy read that’ll change the way you approach producing music for good. Just enter in your email address at the top right of the site and you can download it right away!
If you’ve worked with audio for any length of time then you’re likely to have used a compressor once or twice. The basic idea of a compressor is to reduce the dynamic range of the audio, even it out if you will, and then you can bring up the overall gain or volume of that now more consistent performance. Sometimes, however, we can push it a bit too much and you can “hear” the compressor working (not a bad thing if that is your desired effect).
So how can we benefit from compression while at the same time preserving the natural dynamics of a track? The answer is parallel compression. Let’s take a quick look at how to fatten some drums up naturally using this age old technique.
If you’re like me, you want to get better at recording and producing music. Most of us truly desire to increase in skill and ability and thereby produce music of high quality. So what do we do to accomplish that end? We buy more “professional” gear, join online recording debates, and watch a lot of tutorial videos on YouTube. The videos hopefully are helping (heck, I hope MY videos are helping you), but the first two are usually a waste of time. I have a better way for you…finish your projects.
If you never complete a recording or mixing project it becomes very hard to improve your skill as an engineer. Let me explain. Because of the freedom of time and money afforded us by powerful computer recording we aren’t ever under any real deadlines. Therefore our tendency is to work on projects, never pronounce them complete, and then fiddle with something else. We’ll then come back to the original project and tweak some more. Sessions become a continuous work in progress.
However, if you instead force yourself to do your best with what you have and what you know, print a mix or master and call it a day, then you create a unique opportunity for yourself. You now have something tangible, that you created, that is complete, which you can evaluate and learn from. You can listen back and highlight what you think you did well (and would like to recreate in future projects) and what you did poorly (and how you would like to do things better the next time). This process of evaluation is so critical to growth as an audio engineer. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you will somehow improve without it.
Always Your Best Work
My wife is always hearing what ever projects I’m working as I tend to use her for feedback on mixes a lot. And if you ask her, she’ll attest to the fact that I’m always saying that the most current project I’m working is “my best work yet.” This should be the case! It may not always be, but really if you are completing projects and setting them aside, whether it is your own music or a client’s record, you have something to compare it to. You can look at your history of work and see how you have improved and what specifically has gotten better. This acts as a barometer for your ever improving skill as a producer.
Whatever you do, don’t be “normal.” Normal home studio people buy a bunch of stuff, read a lot of other people’s opinions on forums (or blogs like this one), play around in their DAWs, are either overly confident in their skill or never feel like their stuff will get any good, and then they plateau. They never go anywhere from there! I don’t want that to be you. I want you to give every project all that you have, finish it, and then move on. The next time you produce music, look back at your most recent work and try to improve from where you left off. This, my friends, is the key to becoming a better engineer.
The other day a reader posted a comment regarding my lack of acoustic treatment in my studio and he wanted to know how I got my mixes to sound “good” despite the bare walls. His question leads to an important part of recording well in your home studio that I want to briefly explain today. No matter how much acoustic treatment you have (or don’t have), in order to get great recordings and mixes at home you need to “learn” your studio.
Not Quite The Truth
If you aren’t yet satisfied with your recordings in the home studio then pay attention. The biggest thing that can hinder your progress is not being able to hear your tracks properly. Your studio room and monitors are probably giving you a misrepresentation of how your audio is actually sounding. Talk about frustrating. That is why you hear the “big boys” of recording telling you to invest in quality acoustic treatment, great monitors and converters, or even to ditch the home studio and just record in a pro studio.
In one sense they are right. Those things will go a long way to ensuring that what you hear is what you are actually getting in your DAW. But sometimes those are not options to use “small guys”. Money is tight. And more importantly (to me anyways), those things aren’t necessary. There is a perfectly good alternative: simply take the time to learn your studio’s shortcomings and quirks. Than you can compensate for them and come out just fine.
For many of us, we have typical drywall in our rooms. Without much absorption or diffusion materials to make a difference, any sound coming from our speakers (or guitars, vocals, drums, etc) will simply bounce off the walls a bunch of times and then come back to our ears (or our microphones) with a much higher frequencey response. In essence this tricks our ears to thinking things sound “brighter” than they are. This can affect our microphone placement technique, as well as how we EQ in the mix.
Then we take the mix out to the car, or on our iPod, and we notice that everything sounds a bit muffled. Where did all that high end go? It was only present in that room! So unless you can get all your fans and listeners to only listen to your mixes in your studio then they won’t get the full effect. Not a good plan.
Instead, in this example, we could learn from our first few mistakes, and know to boost the highs a bit, mix a bit brighter than we would like, and adjust mic placement accordingly. We would do this all while knowing that in the “real world” it will sound just perfect. If this seems like an annoying extra step right now, don’t worry. Your room usually stays the same so it won’t be long before you’ve learned how it “sounds” and can figure out how to adjust accordingly.
Acoustic Treatment Is Not Your Answer
There is nothing wrong with acoustic treatment in your studio. In fact it will help tremendously. Kind of a no brainer. What I’m saying, however, is that if the budget and the landlord prohibit you from going that direction don’t think that you’ve somehow missed out and that you can’t do this. Acoustic treatment is not the solution to great recordings or mixes. You are. Learning your studio so you can make better tracking and mixing decisions is the key.
No matter what DAW you use to record, edit, or mix music, there exist some basic principles of how to best use these tools and save yourself some trouble. I want to cover some of these foundational tips in a video series I’m calling “DAW University”. From the look at this week’s poll, we have many different pieces of recording software represented by you readers, so I hope you all find these tips useful no matter what you use.
Today’s video covers something super important, proper file/session workflow. How you handle your actual session files can have a huge impact on whether or not you can “start all over” if you screw something up. Enjoy!
Today is all about you! Many of you reading this blog have very different backgrounds when it comes to recording and I want to know a little bit more about what your main tools are in the process. If you don’t mind taking the super easy poll below that would rock. Just select the recording software that you use as your primary DAW. Then leave a comment telling me why you like it (or don’t for that matter) and how you primarily use said software (i.e. recording bands, or midi sequencing, or singer/songwriter stuff).
The more I know about you all, the better I can tailor the content at The Recording Revolution to best suit your needs!