I’m a sucker for a studio challenge. Recently I decided to track an entire band production using only one microphone and a low cost audio interface. Why? Because that’s what many of you actually have in your home studio! The gear of choice: a Behringer B1 ($100 condenser mic) and the new Avid Fast Track Solo ($179 USB interface), all recorded and mixed on the included free Pro Tools Express software (using only the included stock plugins). Here’s how it all went down…
Biggest Recording Challenge – Drums
As you can imagine, the biggest challenge of recording with one microphone is capturing a complex instrument like acoustic drums. Finding the optimal position that gives you a balance of enough kick, snare, and toms, without the cymbals overpowering it was a challenge. We found the over the shoulder position ideal because it blocked the hi hat a bit (which was overbearing) and allowed us a direct line to the kick drum, snare, and toms.
We actually tried an SM57 just for fun (instead of the Behringer) and it had a nice punchy sound to it. The toms sound fantastic in that mic and the cymbals were a bit more subdued, which we liked. However, the biggest drawback to the 57 in this case was the lack of kick drum. It just disappeared. When we swapped the Behringer back in the fattness of the kick and the snare came to life.
Biggest Mixing Challenge – Headphones
I initially thought the big challenge of mixing in Pro Tools Express would be the limited number of plugins and effects. Turns out you get more than enough tools to get the job done. I used the stock Avid Compressor and EQ on just about every track. I love the included 1176 copy compressor as well. Great on vocals and parallel compression for the drums.
In reality the biggest challenge was having to mix entirely on headphones. It was critical that I take the mix out to some other speakers and to the car to get some perspective. I also brought in a reference track to see how my mix compared on my headphones and through the Avid Fast Track’s converters. A little final EQ balance on the mix buss brought things a bit closer to the pro mix.
In taking on this self-imposed challenged I learned a few valuable lessons that I hope will bear fruit in your musical endeavors.
- Limitations force you to think creatively and decisively. With only one mic to track drums, we had to really listen hard to discern if we had enough of every element captured. We couldn’t assume that we could tweak later, we had to get it right at the source!
- You can make a lot of sound with only 16 tracks. Probably the biggest limitation to Pro Tools Express is the track count. You can only have up to 16 audio tracks at a time. This forced me to give priority to some tracks and parts over others and be really intentional about the arrangement. In the end we got a big sound with only a handful of tracks.
- Mixing happens faster when you don’t have a lot of choice. I mixed this song in about an hour. I probably spent another 30 minutes or so tweaking and adjusting, but the core mix came together in only 60 minutes. Nice. More time to do other stuff!
- There are no excuses anymore. This type of experiment will either encourage you, or crush you. The fact that anyone can make a great sounding track with stuff that cost less than $300 on a laptop proves that there simply no more excuses holding you back. Honestly the only thing that can hold you back from making great music is lack of talent, desire, or motivation. The gear and tools are no longer a barrier. Viva la revolution!