Fundamentals of Recording

Fundamentals of Recording

May 31, 2009
in Category: recording
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During the 1960s, recording studios were growing fast due to the new 8-track recorders coming into the studios (thanks to Les Paul’s innovations from as early as the 1940s). Along with this, the art of mixing and creative engineering was born. Phil Spector started layering his instruments for an in-your-face trademark sound, that was actually dubbed “Wall of Sound.” The Beach Boys released Pet Sounds (engineered by Brian Wilson), which inspired the Beatles to record Sgt. Pepper. These are both great examples of creative engineering getting on its feet.

In 1982 the compact disc was released (the technology is actually much older). Until 1999 when Super Audio CD and DVD Audio (both complete failures still), CD was the highest quality the industry could supply us with. Vinyl can actually hold so much more sounds than a CD ever could, but since CDs are so much cheaper than vinyl, all of the companies started getting rid of their vinyl equipment. Most vinyl presses are run by smaller companies that have local or online clients.

Working in the studio

people you work with…

  • executive producer – this guy handles all the business arrangements for a recording session, and in many times is the one paying the studio. Without the executive producer, you will be using your own money to make the album.
  • producer – responsible for the entire creative process for an album. Producers usually have trademark sounds, and are asked for by name by artists. The producer plays so many roles that are essential to make a good sounding album. The producer has an objective ear, but knows how to guide artists into performing their best. If an artist shows up in a bad mood, the producer is usually the one that has to fix everything. A good producer has diplomatic skills, but all while keeping a good relationship with the artists.
  • engineer – this guy is responsible for all the technical aspects of the session (pre and post production). Engineers and producers are usually closely linked, and are often hired as a pair for recording albums.
  • assistant engineer – if you fly into Cali to record at a new studio, and you brought your engineer along, how will you know what to do? The assistant engineer is usually the in-house engineer for the studio, and can get the engineer up to speed on the facilities. The assistant engineer’s job is to make sure everything runs smoothly.
  • studio manager – this is the guy getting paid for the studio time. If you are a client paying him, he loves you. If you can’t come up with the cash, he will be a cold hearted asshole, but for a good reason. Recording studios sell one thing: time. Time is money in this industry, and if you waste studio time, you waste money (yours or theirs). The studio manager is usually in charge of scheduling all of the sessions, and is closely linked to the owner.
  • A&R – Artists & Repertoire. Think of these as talent scouts for musicians. They travel around, looking for new talent, and then try to develop that talent for a wide audience. They are your liason to the industry. A&Rs may make suggestions about your album content, lyrics, image, etc. but they don’t have the final say once you are on board. They are not always your friend, and many times can be compared to car salesman, with lots of small print that they try to cover up with lots of fantasies and exaggerations.

the recording process…

pre-production – this is the most critical part of the recording process. Getting everything planned out, wires connected, machines turned on, channels marked, etc. If you are not prepared, then you will waste time… and wasting time in a studio is a good way to lose friends.

production – there are 3 main phases in production; tracking, overdubbing and mixing. Tracking is done first, it’s when you record all the instruments first, and get everything ready for the vocals (or whatever your main focus will be in the song). This means seperating each element of the song onto its own track (kick on track 1, snare on track 2, keyboard on track 3, etc). Overdubbing is recording new audio to a previously recorded track. If you record vocals, then record back over them, repeating certain words, or just shouting things out, adding accents… that’s overdubbing. Mixing is the final process.. this is where you blend all of the individual sounds together, and it usually takes quite a while.

mastering – when you are about to release your album into the market, you have to make sure it sounds good on whatever you are getting it pressed to. If pressing to CD and vinyl, you must get a different master for each, because vinyl works differently than CD. Mastering is not something you can learn in school, it is something you pick up over years and years of mixing. A good mastering engineer takes care of their ears!

equipment you will use …

Microphone – the microphone is a transducer (that means it converts one type of energy into another). In this case, it is converting the vibrations coming from someone’s vocal chords (acoustical energy), and turning them into electrical energy. A speaker is a transducer that does the exact opposite of this.. it converts electrical energy into vibrations (acoustical energy).

  1. The dynamic mic is cheap, durable, and it can handle very loud noises (SPLs or sound pressure levels). You can literally beat someone unconcious with one of these, then use it to drive a few nails into some wood.. then put it back on the mic stand and use it. These mics are commonly used for snare drums for instance. They are not very good at picking up softer sounds, or small changes in volume as well as the condenser mic.
  2. The condenser mic is much more expensive, and very fragile. They are usually carried around in a special case to avoid damage. These are used for vocals and a wider range of frequencies than dynamic can hear. These are the microphones that need Phantom Power (called phantom because it uses the audio cable to power the mic… no extra cable = phantom power).

Wiring

There are 2 types of wiring: balanced and unbalanced. For home studios, or situations where you aren’t running more than 50ft of cable, you are pretty safe with unbalanced wires. Just make sure you do not have any power cables close to your audio cables, because that will cause interference. Balanced cables are standard for professonal applications. To put it simply, a balanced cable has 3 wires (high, low and ground) and it’s main advantage is the fact is has the ability to fix small interference sthat may occur. The way it does this can be seen below:

On the first wire, the signal is sent as normal:

On the second wire, the same signal is sent, but inverted (upside down):

If interference occurs, it effects both signals the same exact way:

The balanced cable then inverts both of these signals, therefore eliminating interference:

Cool huh?

Here are some common balanced cables:

  1. XLR
  2. TRS
  3. TT

Here are some common unbalanced cables:

  1. RCA
  2. Banana
  3. 1/4

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