Home Vs. Pro Recording Studio Setups

So about 2 days ago, I had an intriguing conversation with a rapper at an open mic show here in Chicago. After he found out that i was a professional audio engineer who worked out of Studio 11, he claimed he didn’t need to go to a recording studio to work on his music since he had one at home. He disputed the fact that professional music studios aren’t needed anymore due to the fact that the quality equipment needed to record, mix and master has become not only inexpensive, but easy to use. So lets outline this debate. Do musicians still need the services of professional recording studios? Most of the salesmen and women at Sweetwater Sound or Guitar Center would love for you to think that if you purchase a certain DAW system, microphone, audio interface and descent pre-amp, that you can in fact produce a professional, ready for radio sounding recording. In all reality, it is in fact technically possible, so this rapper’s claims when we spoke aren’t that far off base. However, the real question is, is it possible for you to do so? When i listened to one of his songs that he recorded and produced at home, the quality was terrible compared to the quality that myself and the rest of our staff aspire to here at Studio 11. The art of audio engineering is a skill just like playing the drums, piano or training to sing. To be frank, it probably takes much much longer to become savvy with all the aspects and techniques that are involved in audio engineering than learning an instrument. 99.9% of all audio engineers aren’t very good when they first start out in the profession. Many start learning the craft by going to a school, interning at one or several recording studios, and shadowing other skilled audio engineers in the field. When it comes to myself, i interned at 3 different studios after my first year at college. After leaving college during the middle of my sophomore year, this internship i had eventually led to an assistant job, where i met and shadowed many different highly skilled audio engineers and producers. I was literally at the studio 7 days a week, 12-14 hours a day learning everything i could from them. You could really call these people my mentors. 24 years later, i am still friends with some of the engineers and producers i assisted for. And i still ask them questions from time to time, however, they also ask me questions from time to time now too. Overall, it can take aspiring engineers anywhere from 5-10 years or longer to acquire the skill set that will allow them to swim in the same waters as other highly skilled engineers when it comes to proficiency and client satisfaction. A lot of aspiring engineers never become good at the profession. I would say it took me about 6 years to understand and utilize the skills i learned to become proficient enough to produce high level recordings for clients. When it comes to musicians, they are used to purchasing music equipment to sound better. Purchase a nicer guitar, it sounds better. Purchase a nice amp, its gonna sound better than a cheaper amp. So to these musicians, that mindset should translate to when they purchase a good microphone and recording equipment. Their recordings are gonna sound better since they have nice gear. But is that really gonna be the case? NOT REALLY When it comes down to it, you could purchase the best gear available and still sound like ass. What a lot of musicians seem to forget is that when you’re purchasing gear, you’re just purchasing the gear. The gear you purchase is just one link on the chain. Its as if a kid who never made a beat before spent 20k on a system to make beats. Then Timbaland comes in with a $100 casio drum machine. Who do you think is gonna make a better beat? The quality of the system used to make the beat doesn’t make the kid magically better, its the skills learned over time that do so. Shortly after most people purchase recording equipment to establish a home studio, they begin to find that the recordings they are producing don’t stand up to the recordings they listen to on a daily basis from their favorite bands and recording artists. So what do these dotards do? They go out and purchase even more expensive recording equipment and systems. Its as if they say to themselves, “Well, I just need a better microphone, preamp, audio interface, speakers, plugins, etc, then I’ll get it right”. IT'S THE EAR NOT THE GEAR!! The truth is, what these home studio cowboys need to understand is that they have to learn how to record and mix their audio properly through what they already own. When it comes to proper engineering, any good engineer that does their work from a DAW can produce a great mix with only the stock plug ins that come with the software. The idea would be slightly different with engineers that only work on analog systems. But, because the principles of recording and mixing are pretty much the same for both the analog and digital world, engineers that prefer using all analog systems would still be able to produce a great sounding mix on a DAW. The only hindrance would be the engineers lack of knowledge in how to use the software. It wasn’t that long ago when recording anything would require a large amount of money to do so. To start a recording studio, you’d have to spend at least 100K on all the gear. This doesn’t include the money required for the space the studio would occupy, nor does it include the money needed to develop the correct acoustics while building the studio. Proper acoustics mean everything when it comes to producing professional recordings and mixes. Here in 2022, really all you need to start recording your music is a descent laptop, microphone, interface and studio monitors. The bar to get in on the ground floor of recording is considerably lower than what it used to be back when i was younger. In all honesty, most musicians can learn pretty quickly how to make decent demo recordings at home on any average DAW. But keep in mind, the keyword to that last sentence was demo, not professional. Its like i tell clients of mine, use your home studio to record, practice and perfect your ideas. This way, when you come into our studio to record and bring these ideas to life, you’ll know exactly whats gonna sound good while doing so. Truthfully, i make most of my clients rerecord their material here at the studio when they bring me projects to mix that they recorded at home. Not only do we have significantly better gear here at the studio that we use when we record, but the experience myself and the rest of our staff have in producing a great sounding recording is light years ahead of the experience our clients have. The end result always produces a much better mix. Sometimes it can be a challenge convincing them to rerecord their material, but once we convince them there is no turning back. GETTING PLAYED Its pretty typical for musicians to react emotionally. To them, if they like the music they are making then other people should like it too. But the real question is, will these other people ever get a chance to hear it. Will they purchase it? Will they listen to it while in their car, on their earbuds, or in the club. Just because your home produced song sounds good to you doesn’t mean it will sound good to other people on whatever medium they listen to music through. A song that is mixed poorly doesn’t translate well to other formats and systems. Ever since radio began, it was used as a medium to get music to a mass audience. Over time, this eventually led to a standard on how each of the different genres of music should sound. If a song doesn’t fit into the acoustical standards of other comparable music in the same genre, then the chances are pretty small that it will be considered for a radio playlist. That not only includes AM/FM radio, but streaming services such as Spotify, Soundcloud, etc. Even club DJ’s depend on the music they are playing to sound as good as possible. They want their set to have the most impact they can get with the patrons on their dance floor. Once again, if the sound quality of the song is lacking, then the chances are slim that DJ’s would play it or give it any attention. Releasing a poorly mixed song doesn’t necessarily mean that people won’t hear it, but it can affect whether people will like it or even remember it. A normal listener either likes a song or doesn’t. Usually these people won’t be able to tell you why they like it or not. However, if your song lacks transparency or punch, if key elements that drive the song can’t be heard clearly, if the vocals are not in tune with the music, or the song is too quiet compared to the playback of other songs, then any or all of these issues can turn someone off to your song. The convenience of having a professional engineer and producer work on your music is that he or she can offer you direction, help you deliver a better performance while recording as well as make suggestions to improve your songs to make them more marketable. Most artists on major record labels work in the recording studio with a professional engineer and or a producer. The studio may not always provide the engineer or producer, regardless one or both of these kinds of people will usually be present during the project. Since many musicians and recording artists record their music at home, that not only means that they are wearing the hat of the recording artist, but they are also wearing the engineer and producer hat as well. But what they always forget is that in the music marketplace, they are competing against songs that are professionally engineered and produced. And these producers really understand the trends in the marketability of each genre. ENVIRONMENT High quality recording and mixing equipment isn’t the only thing that makes going to a professional studio better than doing things at home. The environment which the recording, mixing, and mastering is occurring in is equally important, maybe even more important than the quality of the gear you are using. If you don’t want to be recording the sound of your neighbors fucking upstairs, traffic whizzing by outside, construction on the building next door, then you will need proper isolation and sound proofing in order to do so. Most of the time when people build their little home studio setups, they do so without thinking about the ramifications of properly isolating and sound proofing their recording space. If you can hear all these extra sounds coming into your home while your recording, that means the equipment you are using to record can pick it up too. So not only are you recording yourself but you are recording the environment around as well. In big music cities where opportunities for a music career actually exist, most people live inside apartments or condominiums. These apartments and condos are usually made out of various constructions of drywall and wooden frames, flooring and ceilings. Other weak points in construction also include entry ways, doors and windows. These weak points mean you’re going to get a lot of external ambience and noise coming into your apartment, as well as going out of your apartment. Isolating the space you record in Another thing that is important when it comes to the space the studio resides is acoustics. Most amateur home studio setups either incorporate no acoustic treatment at all, or the treatment that is done is very minimal and/or improperly done. This means you’re not just recording the source, but also recording the sound reflections of the room. In addition, it means the accuracy of the sound you are hearing coming out of your monitors will be low in quality, which even for the most experienced professional engineers could make it hard to produce a mix that translates over a number of different audio systems. The accuracy of the sound you are hearing is everything. Depending on what genre of music you are working on, the size of the studio could even be an issue. If you’re just recording vocals and producing beats on your computer then an average sized room should be sufficient. However, if you’re recording full bands, they’ll probably want to play and record their songs together. Most apartments and condos aren’t large enough to fit an entire band in to do a proper recording. In addition, your neighbors probably won’t be to happy with you either. THE EQUIPMENT When it comes down to the gear, most professional studios usually have amazing choices of gear thats way in excess of what most people have in their home studio setups. Choices in microphones, pre amps, outboard eq’s, dynamics processors, digital converters, effects, speakers and more can really define the quality of sound a recording studio can capture. Not withstanding, the divide between the home and professional studio market keeps shrinking. But still, the range of gear alone will most likely bump up the quality. When finding the right gear for the right application, the ability of the engineer to audition and select different equipment is essential in capturing the right color and timbre of the sound sources being recorded. The seasoned abilities of the audio engineer in addition to the combination of acoustics, isolation, and gear of a professional studio will produce a far greater quality than most people can get at home. This goes for most high and mid priced recording studios. Even if you purchase all the recording equipment in the world, you’ll more than likely still need a professional studio because that is in fact where professional audio engineers work out of. The main contrast between a serious home recording studio and a professional recording studio is most definitely the set of skills the audio engineer has. Based on that skill set, the difference between the end product produced is usually quite drastic. So in summary, after all the arguments i presented, is it wise to build a home recording studio if you’re a musician or recording artist? You’re probably thinking that because of the positive points i made about professional recording studios that my answer to that question would be no. But in all actuality, i definitely think it’s important for aspiring musicians and recording artists to have some kind of home studio setup. Why is that? For the benefits of songwriting and to help deliver confidence while performing when recording. Writing and performing in a professional studio under pressure can be quite stressful, and expensive. The more you write and rehearse at home, the less stressful going to a professional studio can be. Once again, what i always tell my clients is write, record and flesh out your ideas at home before you come into our studio to record them. This way, you’ll have a better concept of how you’ll wanna record your project since you’ll already know how your performances sound playing back through the speakers. Whether you’re a singer, rapper, or musician, having an idea of how things sound will help perfect your writing and performance of that writing before going to a professional studio. The only way to know how you sound and whether your ideas are good or not is by recording those ideas. Cause at the end of the day, how will you really know if what you wrote is good or not if you don’t hear it back after performing it? How will you know how to perfect and tweak what you wrote if you don’t hear it back? In the long run, this will only make you more prepared when coming to a professional studio such as ours to record.

Looking To Record A Song In Chicago?

Recording A Song In Chicago

Back in the day there was simply no other option to record a song than to go to the recording studio. These days with the advent of digital technology, it seems that everyone is under the belief that they can record their own songs. The unfortunate aspect of this logic is that most people are not skilled and trained to record very well. Let’s look at the reasons why heading to the recording studio is your best option when looking to record your next song.

Audio Quality

Audio quality is the most important aspect of your next recording following the music. If your recording sounds sub-par, listeners will not take your work seriously. The recording studio brings you the combination of top quality equipment and engineering. These forces combine to do wonders for your sound and success.

Focus On Music

Let’s face it, if you’ve got your head buried in a computer screen you’re likely not making much music. Engineering audio and making music are married forces that are in fact quite departed. As a musician your goal should be to focus on the music. Imagine the difference between cutting your own hair and going to a salon. You need to sound your best, and the studio will insure that you have the focus to do that.

Economy

While many people think they are saving money by spending thousands on home recording setups, they are in fact throwing money out the window. These home setups end up worthless after just a few years of use and yield no professional results. For the same amount of money dozens of songs could have been recorded professionally. Time is a valuable resource, and the recording studio insures that you’re making the best use of it.

If you’re looking to record a song in Chicago you’ve landed at the right place. After 20 years of servicing Chicago, Studio 11 brings you the best combination of recording equipment and engineering. Call us for a consultation on your project at 312-372-4460.

Three Important Skills Essential for Better Recording Sessions

Often during recording sessions, audio engineers have their technical jacket on and can periodically overlook some of the psychological aspects of engineering a record. The psychology doesn’t only make a record, it also can transform the way an artist or band feels about the record in the end.

It is important to remember that there are certain realities in the studio that can discourage artists when making modern records.

1. Editing

Most modern music production nowadays consists of recording and rendering audio files and moving them around in some kind of DAW session. For example, you may want to move a percussion fill from the end of your first verse to the last verse. However, after this simple rearrangement, the percussion fill doesn’t lock to the groove of the drums and bass guitar the same way that it did at the end of the first verse.

Correcting this problem between the relationship of the percussion, drums, and bass might require a few simple adjustments on one or more of the tracks in question. As technicians in the studio, often times we don’t take this concept to heart as much as we should. Musicians and artists will often become self-aware the longer they are in the studio. The psychological affect this can have over time in the studio can kill inspiration and motivation.

The truth is, it’s not that the percussion is out of time or the drum and bass tracks were performed poorly. Slight feel shifts happen all the time during performances, especially when two or more musicians are playing live together.

One way to avoid this psychological hiccup from having an affect in your recording session is to make sure the artist and/or musicians take a periodic break from time to time while recording. Send them outside for a walk around the block to clear up their heads. It’s always a good idea to have your client’s take a short break after they’ve just recorded a bunch of takes anyway. The brief separation can lend objectivity to the overall project, keep emotions balanced, and ears fresh. This objectivity can help the artist or musicians hear their song from an outside listeners perspective as opposed to an inside perspective

Between a Rock & a Hard Place

As sure as the sun rises in the east, it’s quite likely that at some point in your audio engineering career you’ll have to edit a song or performance way more than you either wanted or planned to. This can be due to a few things in your control as well as a number of factors that aren’t.

Most of the time in the studio, you’re stuck with the band or musicians you are recording on a project. And most of the time in the studio, its not going to be possible to replace a musician or band member that isn’t carrying his or her own weight in the recording process. It’s just something that has to be dealt with, which means that you’re probably going to be doing a lot of editing and or secretly replacing.

The best thing to do is to get the band or musicians you are working with to leave for the day or wait until the end of the session when they leave before starting editing. You’re going to be doing major surgery, which can become quite a long and tedious job. Time and patience are required, which is something that doesn’t always sit well with an artist or band that is not familiar with the process. And if any of them are sensitive or thin skinned, watching you fix their performances could potentially make an artist or band member tune out and not focus their attention on the creative aspects

2. Getting Punchy

Generally during most recording sessions, punch-ins need to be made. It is definitely a time saver. Sure it’s nice to massage your client’s ego and do numerous takes until they nail the whole track in one take. But most times, doing this takes and wastes a lot of time in the studio. Clients who are booking time in the studio now usually don’t have the kind of recording budgets that people had 20 years ago. Time is definitely a factor when recording, which means punching in a performance has become an even more important step in the recording process than before.

If it’s one note or one phrase that you don’t like, just punch it in. It’s not quite as easy as it sounds though, however with computers taking over much of the recording and editing process, you don’t need to have the fastest fingers in the west anymore to do a good job. Always record a little more than what you need so you have space to edit what you are punching in cleanly and correctly. This will help give the performance that feeling like it was recorded all in one take.

Work Dat Sh*t

Do be afraid to practice counting and punching in. Remember, practice makes perfect. It’s important to know everything there is to know about the punch settings in your DAW, cause every audio system is different. Build your experience with both auto-punches and freehand punches. The goal is to make it effortless and sound natural.

Before the Roll, there was Pre Roll

This can be a real mind bender when recording. It’s important when you’re punching in or recording multiple takes that you use the same amount of pre-roll and a consistent starting point. Too much pre-roll can lead to forgetfulness or over analyzation from the artist or musician who is punching in. Not enough pre-roll can lead to an unnatural punch in which can destroy the emotion and character of a given recorded performance as a whole.

Starting randomly at different times in the beat will not put the artist or musician in a comfortable state of mind either. Pay close attention to your time ruler. Have a rule that you will either use one or two bars of pre-roll when punching in. Stay away from odd starting points unless the song is in an odd time signature.

The important thing is you always want the artist or musician you are recording to feel grounded 100% comfortable. If your start times are herky-jerky and inconsistent, you can and should expect weaker recorded performances overall.

Also, make sure the artist or musician you are punching in understands the aspects of pre-roll and punch ins. Practice it a few times with them so they can become comfortable with the punch in procedure. Practice makes perfect!

3. Markers

It’s important to make sure you label each section of the song. Do this as early in the session as you possibly can. Nobody enjoys hearing or watching you take the time to search for a specific section of the song.

Every DAW on the market has different options when it comes to markers. Systems like Logic and Pro Tools allow you to name and color code markers. You can even come up with your own system. Doing this for every song will make navigation much easier for each song because there is consistency, and you are building good engineering habits.

So remember, its all the small things that add up to making the studio experience more memorable and positive. If your goal is to become a better engineer for your clients, make sure you consider these skills.

Recording Audio with Mixing in Mind

Audio engineers play a critical role in three aspects of the process for creating music. These aspects are recording, mixing, and mastering.

Occasionally, three different engineers, who specialize in each kind of engineering, complete these tasks separately. Sometimes, one engineer might be responsible for all three.

Nonetheless, it helps the process of mastering to have a great mix. Just as well, it helps the mixing process to have a great recording. Therefore, it can be helpful to keep the big picture in mind. In this new blog, we’ll take a close look at the aspect of recording

Over time, I have come to believe that there are two common missteps to make in the process of recording.

The first blunder that many amateur engineers make is to assume that something recorded poorly can be fixed in the mixing process. While it is correct that signal processing tools such as equalization and compression are very powerful and can solve many problems, they can make some poorly recorded audio sound good. But just as well, those same powerful signal processing tools can also make good things sound great. To achieve the best results when mixing and mastering, there is nothing that beats beginning with an amazing sounding recording.

The second common mistake people make when recording is to concentrate on each individual sound of the song without acknowledging their context in the overall mix. This means that you are focusing too much on the fidelity of one particular sound in the song, without considering how it works spectrally with other instruments. For instance, you might put in significant effort to record drums that sound “clear” and “big” their own. However, this could actually cause problems when the drum tracks have to fit in with a full mix of other instruments.

Certainly, it is the fundamental responsibility of the mixing engineer to fit all the pieces of a song together. However, this can be better achieved if the original sounds in the mix were recorded with the intention to pocket together.

Here are some things to consider if you want to record with mixing in mind:

1) SONIC SPACE/DEPTH

If your mix has several various instruments, then it is common to want some instruments to be perceived as “close” to the listener and while other instruments are perceived to be “distant” from the listener.

There are a couple techniques when mixing that can be used to change the perception of depth in your mix. However, there are also different recording techniques that can produce similar results in a simpler and more natural way.

One method to achieve that upfront sound is to place the microphone close to your sound source when recording. Set up your microphone within a few inches of a vocalist’s mouth. Put a microphone angled at the top of snare drum. Place a microphone next to the grill cloth on a speaker cabinet.

If you want an instrument to sound far away and distant in your mix, set up microphones further away from the sound source. Moving a microphone several inches away from a guitar amp can make a big difference. Setting up microphones in the back of your live room when tracking drums can add to the perception of realism in your drum tracks. Occasionally, it means setting up microphones several feet away from the sound source.

2) STEREO IMAGE

In a stereo mix, there is a lot of dynamic and spectral space available in the horizontal plane. Not only can you pan mono sound sources to the left and right of your stereo mix, but there are other techniques that be used to ingeniously fill the stereo width. There are many stereo microphone techniques that can be used to obtain everything from a narrow to a wide stereo image when recording.

Another accepted and commonly used method to fill out the stereo width is to double track or mult a performance. If you are recording electric guitar, record it twice and pan one track to the left and the other track to the right. To go another step further, record each guitar track with different microphones so that each side sounds unique. Another common method is to also use different amp and guitar combinations when double tracking guitars

Similarly, to achieve a stereo vocal recording, one method is to use three separate mono tracks of the same vocal part. Start with the best vocal track panned to the center at a volume that will fit in the mix on its own. Take the other two vocal tracks and pan them to the left and right. Depending on how wide you pan each track will determine the width of the vocal performance. Blend the volume of these extra takes so that you subtly perceive the width. If you want the stereo image to be the dominant feature of the vocal, raise the volume of the panned vocal tracks so that they are louder than center panned vocal track.

3) SPECTRAL BALANCE/TIMBRE/TONE

Another aspect to consider when recording is the spectral balance or the sound of the mix. Do you want the overall sound of the mix to be bright or dark? Do you want certain instruments to sound clear while other instruments are meant to sound warm ?

One fast method to change the tone of a recording is to set up the microphone to be off-axis instead of on-axis. Another common idea is to choose between ribbon (typically warmer) or condenser (typically brighter) microphones.

The placement of the microphone in relation to the instrument you are recording can also make a significant difference in the overall tone of a track. If you would like to achieve a “full” and “tonal” sound with an acoustic guitar, place your microphone directly in front of the sound hole. If you would like to achieve a “crisp” and “percussive” sound, then point your microphone precisely at the 12th fret.

4) RENDERING EFFECTS

Motivation and creativity can occur at any point in time. If you are experimenting with certain effects during the recording process, don’t be afraid to push the envelope. Remember, the recording engineer’s main job is to capture the sound song, it might become easier to build that “signature” sound for a mix. This might be a specific delay, reverb, or modulation effect.

Rather than leaving this all up to your mix engineer, it doesn’t hurt to render or print both “dry” and “wet” versions of the signals. You never know if your mix engineer will be able to perfectly duplicate a great effect you created.

This novel idea also works for the re-amping of guitars. It can be advantageous for a mix engineer to have a reference (amped) version, even if they anticipate using re-amping after the original recording session. Its possible the original version ends up being better than the re-amped version.

Keep in mind that it can be beneficial to have both processed and unprocessed versions after recording has finished up. Only use what is known as destructive editing when you are certain that you want to commit to a particular effect.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it’s always good to have a solid vision of a song’s finished state before you start recording. It can make the recording process more constructive, and save a whole lot of time when mixing and mastering.

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