One of the most overlooked elements of recording music that separates pro mixes from demos is the quality of the arrangement. I’m not saying we all need complex arrangements, as some songs call for simplicity. But having a great arrangement will truly bring your (hopefully) well written song to life. Today I want to show you a simple technique I call “Instant Arranging” and how it can quickly and easily turn your recordings up a notch. Let’s take a look…
There are some great choices out there when it comes to DAW’s. Whether you roll with Pro Tools, Logic, Sonar, or anyone of today’s popular recording apps, you’re in good hands to make some killer music. The tools are there, it’s really just up to you to get creative. But one of my favorite things to talk about is when artists make great music with Apple’s Garageband (a free DAW that ships with every mac computer). One such artist is Ben Gortmaker.
Getting It Done With Very Little
Ben is an independent artist (and seemingly well rounded musician) out of Nashville and he just released his latest full length album All’s Lost, All’s Found. The best part about it…he recorded and mixed it entirely in Garageband. Joe Gilder of HomeStudioCorner.com featured him on one of his recent podcasts and you can listen to the interview over there.
He used a simple 2 channel, USB audio interface from M-Audio running straight into his laptop, much like the setup I recommend for under $300. He tracked drums, guitars, violins, bass, vocals, keys, percussion etc. all into Garageband using this simple setup. Despite the limitations of the software he put together what I think is a warm, big sounding creative work of art. It just goes to show that it’s not about the gear, it’s about the song, the artist, and the talent going into the studio.
Listen For Yourself
You can stream his album off of his site: BenGortmaker.com and you can then purchase a copy right there. Definitely swing over to his site, take a listen, and then get motivated to start making YOUR music right now.
If Ben can create and entire album as complex as his in a DAW with limited plugins, automation, and editing capabilities then people like me who right pop/rock tunes should have no problem making it happen with something like Logic Express or Pro Tools LE. It just helps put things in perspective.
The moral of the story… Don’t wait till you have that “better” DAW, or the “right” microphone, or better converters or preamps. Stop stalling and start creating. You’ll be glad you did!
Last week one of my readers, and great friend, called me up to ask my opinion on the future of Pro Tools as a viable recording platform. He was referring specifically to the recent re-branding and dissolving of the Digidesign name and how that might affect future releases and the overall direction and vision for Pro Tools.
In case you are not aware (or interested), Digidesign Pro Tools has been around since 1984. Much of Pro Tools has evolved over the past 26 years, especially in features, power, and popularity. But up until now it has always been a product of Digidesign. Now it is officailly being rebranded as Avid Pro Tools.
This Is Nothing New
To be fair, Avid (a huge media company specializing in video production software) purchased Digidesign way back in 1994 and has been the parent company ever since. Avid also purchased M-Audio in 2004 adding to the Pro Tools arsenal of audio interfaces. But up until now these brands (Digidesign and M-Audio) have been operating under their original names and organization. Avid has now decided to trim down and become more lean as a media company, hence the name change to Avid Pro Tools and the website consolidation.
Now, what does this mean for all of us Pro Tools users in the world? In my humble opinion…nothing! Pro Tools is not going away. It is too big, to wide spread, to saturated in the professional and home recording markets that it can’t just die. In fact, just the opposite will likely happen. With Avid slimming down its team and operations, more money is freed up for actual research and development for it’s products like Media Composer, Sibelious, and Pro Tools as opposed to paying overlapping positions in the company and maintaining mulitiple brands (e.g. websites, newsletters, printing).
What Does The Future Hold?
In the future I see more power and and innovation for both Pro Tools HD and LE/M-Powered. Avid is a company that develops and sells both powerful software and cutting edge hardware. Being able to package together amazing audio interfaces (from both Digi and M-Audio), top of the line control surfaces (with the recent acquisition of Euphonix), and the world’s most popular recording platform, Pro Tools, puts Avid in a great place.
If you are a current Pro Tools user, I say forget the the worries and crying happening on message boards and user forums regarding the “collapse of Pro Tools” as we know it. Instead fire open your amazing DAW and make a hit record! And if you are getting into recording and considering going in the direction of Pro Tools, have no fear. You aren’t about to make a mistake. Avid Pro Tools is a platform that is going to be supported for many years to come.
I will close with this. It’s important to remember that Pro Tools has only gotten more amazing since Avid acquired it in the mid 90s. It has expanded in every area possible including the home and prosumer market, paving the way for this home studio boom we are living in now. Just looking at feature set alone from version 5 to today’s version 8, Pro Tools gives you so much more than it ever did (and for less money)! Avid knows what its doing. So let them do their thing and you just do yours.
If you’re in a band, you need a home studio. In fact, every musician needs a home studio. But if you are in a band and you’re reading this, then you my friend need to be the “recording guy/gal”.
Every band needs one. That special someone who has some equipment, some knowledge, and drive to organize recording sessions for the band. My guess is that the rest of your bandmates (like most musicians) don’t want to be bogged down with the technical stuff, so that simply leaves you.
Record Your Rehearsals
The best thing you can do is starting this week, record your band’s rehearsals. Whether you multi track it or just get a stereo mix of the band, make sure you get your practices on “tape”. These recordings can be rough of course and will mostly be utilized for arranging, writing, and demoing.
It’s amazing what you hear when you listen back to a “live” recording of yourself. You start to see where a song needs some tweaks or where the band isn’t jiving well. Plus if you happen to play to a click live (many bands do) then your demo can easily be imported into your actual recording session to serve as a guide track.
Think Like a Producer
While the rest of your band will be thinking about playing gigs, writing new music, or something else entirely (like how to pay rent being a musician), you need to start thinking like a producer. Ask yourself these types of questions: What are our best songs? Are we ready to record them? When/where can I get the drummer alone to record some drum tracks? When would we want to release an EP/album? Should we just release digital singles on our website?
Every time you get together with the band is an opportunity to bring your mobile recording rig along and try to potentially work on some recordings. You may never have any actual “sessions” booked, but instead you piece together a killer album over the course of 6 months. The idea is to be thinking about these things enough so you can capitalize on your time together.
Push The Limits
The great thing about recording yourself (if you know how) is that you have no pressure. You can be as creative as you want. You can try crazy weird recording techniques into the wee hours of the night only to realize that they sound horrible, and no money or pride is lost. Only your time.
So go ahead and get your band to try things. Be original. Be creative. Don’t feel pressure, just make music and have fun. Remember…we are living during a great recording revolution where you have access to so much powerful recording equipment and technology that happens to also be super affordable. Grab some gear, grab your band, and be the recording guy that I know you can be!
Well you asked for it. Here is a video going over what plugins and processing I used to mix the raw drum tracks you heard in last week’s post. In it I briefly touch on EQ, compression, and some busing techniques to get the drums sounding clear and punchy. Enjoy!
Recording and mixing drums is a huge challenge. A few weeks ago I posted a video showing you how I recorded drums in someone’s living room. We used 7 microphones going straight into some affordable mic pres, straight into Pro Tools. We were all very pleased with the raw sound we got. Today however I want you to hear an audio example of the raw verses mixed drum track so you can get a feel for what you can do in a home studio.
Kicking It Off With EQ
A lot of what goes on in mixing drums is getting the right EQ balance. You want to make sure you’re hearing both the low end in the kick as well as the click of the beater. The snare needs to be deep and fat but at the same time crack and cut through the rest of the mix. Obviously you’re hearing the drum mix out of context with the rest of the band so it’s hard to explain my mixing decisions, but I wanted to show you some screen grabs of the plugins I was using on this track.
Here you can see I’ve got a generous boost on the kick drum at around 56hz to emphasize some of that low end, while at the same time I’ve got a slight cut around 150hz to get out of the way of my bass guitar. I also wanted to bring out the attack of the beater on the drum head, but felt it best to really affect a copy of the kick drum track and blend it in with the original. So I bussed the kick out to an aux track and applied some serious EQ to it. See below.
The two kick drum tracks combine nicely to give me that low end that I want as well as that “click” to cut through the mix (especially on speakers with bad bass response like little earbuds).
Let’s Fatten Up That Snare
The snare is my most favorite drum so I tried to take some time with this. There is compression, EQ, an expander, reverb, and even harmonic distortion on this track. Right now I just want to show you my EQ curve for the snare as well as some grit I added with the free Massey Tape Head plugin I mentioned in a post a while back.
Using an analog tape emulator plugin like Massey’s Tape Head is a great way to give a snare track some “air” and crackle. I simply flipped the mode to “bright” and adjusted the drive knob to taste.
For the snare EQ I used a high pass filter to roll off a lot of low end. I boosted a smidge around 350hz to bring out the fullness in the drum. Then I cut some of the “boxiness” out around 625hz or so to get rid of the cardboard sound. And finally I used a subtle shelf to boost the highs to open up the air and presence of the snare.
Squashing It All
I tend to run all the drum tracks through a stereo bus and treat it like a group fader. What I also do is run a copy of all the drum tracks to a second stereo bus and then compress the heck out of it. This gives me a lifeless, but slamming, stereo mix of the drums which I can mix in underneath the uncompressed kit. I used another free plugin, the Bomb Factory 1176 that comes with Pro Tools to slam those drums down.
The Basic Tools
I obviously used more plugins than these, but really all I ever use to get drums to where they need to be are the basics: EQ, compression, reverb, and the occasional distortion plugin. There is no real secret to mixing drums other than listening a lot and using your basic tools to bring it all into focus. And like anything, the more you mix, the better you’ll get. Now get to it!
For a video covering the techniques I used in mixing these drums click here!
I love home recording. I love the freedom and flexibility that come from producing music far away from the rigidity and confines of the traditional studio environment. I’m assuming you do as well since you’re hanging out on this blog. But I have to be honest with you guys. Of all the negatives people attribute to home recording, the one that really carries wait in my mind is the lack of accountability and deadlines for projects.
How Commercial Studios Do Things
When I use to work in a commercial studio there was a constant air of pressure. Clients had booked certain blocks of time, were paying for those blocks, and expected their music to be completed in that time frame. We even had a secretary who organized and scheduled all of the bands and artists along with the required time for mixing/editing after they were long gone. All of this helped us as the engineers and assistants get stuff done.
The same is usually not true when you’re working on your own music in your own studio at your own pace. Not that you have to churn projects out at a certain rate, but the reality is more often than not home studios aren’t that productive of environments and many of us wish we would make more music.
Create Your Own Pressure
The key is setting your own deadlines creating a false sense of pressure. Starting today, you need to take a look at your current project, set some goals and deadlines (make them realistic), and then get to it. It might be you just need to finish recording a few songs and you just keep putting off laying down the vocals, or the lead guitar, etc. Instead you need to schedule an hour here and there this week to make it happen.
The same goes with mixing. Many of us drag on mixing our music for ever because we’re never satisfied and we think it could always get better. Well news flash for you, all mixes could always be better! Mixes are never truly done. You just need to stop at some point, bounce it down, and move on to the next song. Plus that’s how you learn to mix anyway. If you never actually complete a mix for fear of a bad mix, you’ll never actually get any mixing experience. Make sense?
Want To Get Started?
What some help in goal setting for your music? A great place to start is by taking my One Song One Month Challenge. This 5 week video series simply breaks the song production/mixing process into 5 simple goals and gives you some tips and insight into how to make it happen. Another great post to read is by my good friend Joe Gilder over at HomeStudioCorner.com. He wrote an article recently about the one hour challenge. I actually took this the other day and wrote a brand new song in 60 minutes!
Remember, if you care about your music then you will want to share it with others. If you want to share it with others then you actually have to be productive and finish what you start. The key to doing that is to set some deadlines and then get after it. You’ll be glad you did.
Today let’s get right to the point. If you’re recording music, then typically you want the final product to be quality. You want a great, clear, exciting sound that displays your creativity and talent and moves people to tears (or joy, or head banging, or whatever…you get the idea). If this is a given, then why in the world do most of us tend to record our tracks as if the mixing stage of the process is going to somehow make that desire a reality?! Here’s the real secret to getting a great final mix…
Before You Even Get To The Mix
Here’s the truth people. The most important tip I could give you as a producer and engineer (and musician!) is to record your tracks the way you want them to sound in the final mix. It’s that simple. Don’t assume the “magic” will happen in the mix. The “magic” happens in the tracking room with the actual instrument/performer and your microphone.
The art of recording is that…the recording! Great mixes (and great songs for that matter) come much easier when they start with great recordings. Whatever sounds you hear in your head, make them a reality before you ever hit “record” in your DAW. Is the instrument in tune? Do you have new strings/drum heads etc? Have you rehearsed the music enough? Is your mic placement ideal for the sound you’re going for? Do you know whether or not you want to double/triple your vocals? All of these are the types of quesions you need to ask yourself (of the band) and then answer and execute.
The Mix Starts In The Recording Process
I’ve written about mic placement before and how this one simple skill (that comes from experience and practice) will affect your recordings way more than which mic you are using. This huge truth simply reiterates what I’m trying to say in this article: the best sounding tracks are the ones that started with the best sounding recordings. You will get a better mix and a better album when you take the recording process seriously and try to think of the mix with every take you capture.
This tip goes hand in hand with The #1 Rule of Home Recording. If you don’t work in your studio with this rule in mind then you’re shooting yourself in the foot. So read the free eBook if you haven’t already, focus on being intentional with your recordings, and stop leaving things for the mix. Your tracks will be better off, trust me.
We all tend to get bogged down with details. It’s human nature. We have a goal, work towards accomplishing that goal, but at some unknown point we forget the big picture and instead find ourselves debating minutiae and worrying over what I call the “non issues”. I find that this happened to me years ago with my recording and studio work and maybe it’s happened to you.
The big question we have to ask ourselves is this: “Why do I want to have a home studio and record music in the first place?” Seems simple, right? But this one question can determine a few things for us. Namely, answering this one question will determine how we spend our money, our time, and how effective we are at the craft of music production.
Follow The Money
First of all, recording gear isn’t cheap and having a home studio (even an affordable one) involves sacrificing your hard earned cash to some degree. So why go through all the trouble if, let’s say, you really aren’t truly interested in recording music? But surely there aren’t people out there who have a home studio but don’t intend to make music? Unfortunately that describes a lot of audio folks. For many, it is the gear itself that intrigues them and the desire to have cool equipment drives them to want a home studio. They don’t end up really making any music, just collect stuff.
If that’s all you want the gear for (just to have it) then that is perfectly fine. It is your money and you can spend it how you please. If however you are in this thing to make music, then let that be what drives you purchases. Not what gear is cool, new, or shiny. Decide what your music making needs are, look at your budget, then buy based on practicality and functionality. And remember, sonic quality does not simply go up or down based on price or brand name.
Throwing Away Your Time
Secondly, recording takes a sacrifice of your time and energy. If you don’t really care about making music then why bother giving up what little time you have? However, if creating art is one of your goals then you will gladly devote the time needed. But again, having answered the stated question above will help you be focused in how you use your time. Are you trying out every microphone you can imagine and debating which is the absolute best for your vocals or acoustic guitar? Or are you looking for more EQ or mix bus compression plugins to give you “that sound” on your tracks?
All of this is important on one hand, but it also takes time. Since, like your money, time is limited make sure you are spending it where it will make the biggest impact. Only you can decide that of course, but it’s a decision that needs to be made. For some, your time is most valuable in tweaking your songs’ arrangements. For others, working on how you sing every line of your song will make the difference. The key is going for the big wins.
You Need To Ask Yourself
So why do YOU want a home studio? Why do you read websites like this one? Why do you own the gear and software that you own? My hope is that you answer these questions and then live your musical life accordingly instead of spending your time, money, and energy on the things that “everyone” else tells you. You’ll be glad you did.
Want to save both time and money in your home studio? Then download and read my free eBook The #1 Rule of Home Recording. This one rule will transform the way you think and work in your studio.
In light of the recent launch of REthink Pro Tools, I wanted to share a sample video from the tutorial series. In video 6 I go over putting the finishing touches on your mix and in one section I cover your options for bouncing your tracks down to a stereo audio file, ready for distribution.
Of course you can just simply use the built in Bounce To Disk option, but there are some great benefits to using the sometimes little known record to disk option. This video should shed some light on the issue. Enjoy!