Hello and welcome back to the blog! Hopefully you've had another creative week, or perhaps been on holiday soaking in the sun, but either way, we're back again today to continue our focus for August: Studio Hacks.
Today, I wanted to revisit some basic hacks that can all too often be overlooked or stashed away in the attic of our knowledge, when they're actually some of the most fundamental tactics you can employ to get the best out of your recordings each and every time. So, hopefully after today, if you've been overlooking these basic hacks then they might just help you solve an issue you've currently having, or avoid one in future.
Let's dive in!
The Start Of The Chain
Unless you're making or recording music directly from plugins or samples in the digital domain, then you will always be dealing with some level of analogue audio chain - and even you are making music complete within a computer, remember that a lot of those samples would've had to have been recorded at one point for you to be able to use them too. It's an incredibly overlooked solution to arguably the most frequent issue a lot of engineers come into contact with, in that more often than not, either your chain is sub-par, or your technique chosen to record that particular source needs refining. Invariably, and more commonly, it's the former.
When I was first starting out, I remember trying to find as much knowledge as possible so as to record better and better, each and every time I sat down to record my own ideas, or someone else's; unfortunately, when I was starting out, there were many forums that allowed those with misinformation and poor advice dilute the information I was looking for, and still to this day there are a lot of people online who are convinced that your microphone and your preamp don't matter. In actuality they're the most important part in making your recordings incredible from minute one!
And you can get great results from inexpensive options that sound like they're worth 10x the price too. Take our V11 for example; not only does it employ our Golden Drop Technology just like every other microphone we create that's higher in price, but it also has an incredible warmth alongside a detailed and crisp high-end to it's sonic footprint that it typically associated with ridiculously priced vintage microphones we've come to know and adore in recording.
The same applies for the preamp too, especially now that interfaces have some insane technology behind them which can for the most part eliminate the need for an external dedicated preamp until you're ready to take that plunge. Arturia, as many of you well know, are one of my favorites in terms of their preamp design; their AudioFuse preamps work so well with our mics, and at this point I'm sometimes not even using my external preamps because these sound just as good!
Moving on, it's time to talk about automation. This was, for me, one of the last techniques I learned due to not really understanding just how powerful it could be, and also for a while believing those forums I mentioned earlier, but I digress. Automation is such a simple way of bringing your music to life with some very simple moves, or drastic for that matter too, which can almost give the sense that the track is alive and somewhat 3D when listening. Possibly the best example of this is volume changes throughout the song, on various individual tracks to evoke impact, distance, excitement or a calmness as the song progresses.
Drums are usually the best example to demonstrate this as they already have both close and far microphones setup in order to record them; however, it's the balance between them that is where the magic happens. Take for example, the start of a chorus - you want it to make an impact from the first downbeat. A technique I learned early on from Chris Lord Alge, was to bring the overhead mics up for that first hit, only for the very first bar, by around 1-2db, and then return it to how it usually is set. By doing this, you make the first crash hits jump out and grab the attention of the listener because it sounds explosive and exciting; it makes you want to carry on listening!
Another way of using volume automation with drums that I love doing, is adding a sense of depth to a part of the song where it seems a little more ambient and calm. The best way I've found, is to lower the close mic's on the shells, and the overheads somewhat until they feel smooth and washy, while bringing up the volume of the room microphones to counterbalance the volume so as not to drop out the drums from the song entirely. This gives the sense that you're almost in the back of the room listening to the drums only through the reflections of the sound from surfaces in the room it's recorded in. This technique is great if you have a section of the song that is far more gentle than the rest of it, and really helps to add more of a release to the tension and build-up from the rest of the song.
Lastly, and one of my favorite hacks of bringing a track to life with very minimal effort, is by using the same tools that composers use within cinema. If you've ever seen a movie in the theater then you know that many of the sounds that are in the final piece aren't always exactly the same as what's being shown visually; especially if it's an action or horror movie. FX such as footsteps, wind, rain, thunder, explosions, and more are usually create in post-production by specialist engineers and then added to the composition after the fact, allowing the director and the cast to focus on story, the visual team to work on the edit and cinematography, and the composer to create the sound track.
There are a lot of sample packs that already feature many of these folly recordings, such as the one from JST in the video below, which you can add to your music to really add a new sense of depth and character to the music you're engineering, and help you create tension and impact far easier when you need to make that part of the song stand out on its own: