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.
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.