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Microphone Tutorial – 5 Top Tips to Get the Most from Your Affordable Vocal Mic

Big thanks to CD Baby for letting us share their content. They have free recording guide for download along with the original article HERE

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shutterstock 131659220 300x201 Microphone Tutorial – 5 Top Tips to Get the Most from Your Affordable Vocal MicRecording vocals is a high-stakes part of the music-making process. Despite what your egomaniacal guitarist thinks, the vocals are what most people hearing your blood-sweat-&-tear-infused recording will actually listen to, no matter how many sweep arpeggios are in the solo.

As such, a lot of time and special care must be invested in the gear and methods used to track your singer, and in an ideal world, loads and loads of money. In the non-ideal, actual world though, most of us can’t afford a £10,000 vocal chain, and seek to get the best possible sound from gear that doesn’t require a second mortgage to fund its purchase.

This being the case, here are a few top tips that will help you capture great recordings from cheap microphones…

1. Location

It goes without saying that the room in which you are recording affects the sound you get on tape (or iPad, or wax cylinder, or whatever…) and this is especially true when tracking vocals. Assuming you don’t have a nice fully-treated vocal booth, try experimenting with different spaces.

First off, use your ears, not a mic – get the singer to sing whilst you listen for the tone of the space. If it sounds boomy or muddy in real life, that’s what will come through the microphone. Try moving until the sound works. Having the singer stand in a corner singing away from it into the room often works, as the reflections disperse at angles in the room and come back into the mic less.

You might also try buying a reflection filter that surrounds the mic and helps stop roominess creeping in to the tone. Experiment with blankets, curtains or duvets to further deaden the space. There are loads of tutorials for this online. Acoustic treatment (even DIY) is a vital tool in the art of capturing a great vocal sound.

2. Mic Position

Every mic has a sweet spot at which the pickup pattern suits the source material. It is a reflex to have a singer right up against the grill of a pop shield two inches away from the capsule of a condenser microphone, and this suits certain voices, but is far from perfect all the time.

For example, this approach adds bass through proximity affect, and this may not suit the material. Often, not using a pop filter at all and positioning the mic a little further away works much better. Raise the cradle up and point the diaphragm down so that the singer is singing at a point below the mic. This will avoid pops and capture a clear, sweet tone.

3. Gain structure

Setting the gain on your preamp, whether it’s built into an interface or a separate high-end unit, is very important in terms of capturing the vocal without clipping, or noise. Too low and you won’t capture enough signal, leading to a need for compression and a higher noise floor, a problem more noticeable on budget mics and preamps. Too high and you run the risk of clipping and ruining a great take. Consider a little compression on the way in if you have access to the tools, otherwise try tracking quiet sections and loud sections separately to allow you to set different gain levels.

One thing to keep in mind is that there is no real need to get a really hot signal when recording digitally, (this is a hangover from the noisy days of tape) so you can afford to be in the -6db range easily. As long as you’re in a quiet environment, getting a great take without pumping too much gain can yield great results. Make sure your soundcard is set to balance input mode – this will give you more headroom whilst having the gain set lower to avoid noise.

4. Stands

It’s boring but true – skimping on mic stands results in massive pains as you try to deal with drooping and unwieldy metalwork changing the mic position between takes. It is often possible to get a great sound from an affordable mic, but a £10 mic stand will render even the most expensive microphone almost useless.

There are enough options to make sure you can afford to get decent quality stuff – just please, don’t succumb of the gaffa-fixes-everything school of recording. It’s honestly not worth it.

5. Performance

Lastly, it seems obvious but by far the biggest factor in the success of a recording is the vocal performance itself. Try to make the singer as comfortable as possible, take your time to get their mix right so they can hear themselves, and give them some reverb to allow them to pitch better.

One trick to avoid latency when doing this is to have a reverb effect on an aux and send a little of the recording channel to it pre-fade. That way the singer has reverb but you can still monitor direct through the interface instead of having to hear it through software. If the singer is comfortable they will respond better to being produced in terms of the performance, as well your repeated advice to stop moving around so much and keep their damn head still so you can finish this track and go home.

These are by no means the only things to bear in mind when recording, and there are a bunch of different bits of advice out there on almost every aspect of the process. There is really just one thing to remember though, and that is a simple maxim that should always be at the forefront of any decision whilst recording and mixing.

If It Sounds Right, Then It Is Right.

Oh, and “will it affect sales?”

[This post was written by guest contributor Gavin James of dv247.]

Category: FatTrax Blog

What To Do Before You Record Your Song Demo
By Cliff Goldmacher (www.EducatedSongwriter.com)

As a result of recording and producing literally thousands of demos, I’ve learned that it is always better to “prepare and prevent” than to “repair and repent.” Here are a few steps you can take to help make your demo recording experience more successful.

Song Preparation
It may sound obvious but make sure your song is FINISHED. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had clients come into the studio only to start rewriting a part of the lyric or melody. It is significantly less stressful (and quite a bit less expensive) to write a song when you’re not paying the studio an hourly fee.

You can also benefit from trying a few rough recordings at home before you get to the studio. The simple act of listening back to a song instead of performing it will reveal any weaknesses or issues that need to be dealt with before the studio clock is running. The last of these rough home recordings will become the definitive work tape.

The Rough Recording
This is any simple, inexpensive recording that you do into a hand-held recorder, laptop or even your smart phone. Generally a piano or guitar plus a scratch vocal will do the trick.

The key here is not a perfect recording but rather an accurate representation of the song structure. In other words, it doesn’t have to sound great as long as the chords, melody and lyrics are correct. The purpose of this work tape is to provide the demo vocalist and session musicians with a final version of your song that they can learn from.

The Players
Let’s start with the demo vocalist. It’s always a good policy to get a copy of the work tape and the lyrics to the singer a week or so before the session. There are several reasons for this.

First of all, the singer can let you know what key the song should be in to best suit their voice. This way, if you end up recording instrument parts before the singer does their part, you’ll know the correct key. Secondly, the more time the singer has to learn the song, the less time he or she will take to sing the song when the studio clock is running.

When you get to the session, it’s wise to have printed lyric sheets for the engineer, musicians and vocalist. The lyrics should be typewritten and have each chorus written out in full.

The reason for this is that you’ll be using these lyric sheets to mark spots that need fixing (or spots on certain takes that you like) and having “Repeat Chorus” written for the second and third choruses won’t allow you to take good notes.

The better the notes you take on the lyric sheet while the vocalist is recording, the easier it will be to tell the vocalist what works and what needs to be fixed.

The session musicians do not need a rough recording in advance. They will be learning the song from your work tape when they get to the session. You can save a little time by writing a chord chart of the song if it’s something you’re comfortable doing.

If not, the session musicians should have no trouble doing it for you quickly using the work tape you bring to the session.

After that, it’s up to the singers and musicians to bring your song to the next level. There’s nothing more fun than listening to world-class musicians and vocalists record a song you’ve written. The more you prepare in advance, the more you’ll enjoy your studio experience.

Good luck!

About The Author

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars.

Go to  http://www.educatedsongwriter.com/webinar/ for more info.

Cliff’s company,  http://www.NashvilleStudioLive.com, provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos.

You can download a FREE sample of Cliff’s eBook “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos” by going to  http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com/ebook.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/EducatedSongwriter
Twitter: edusongwriter

Category: FatTrax Blog

Australia in summer has some of the hottest, driest conditions on the plant. While you’re escaping from the heat, keeping the blinds drawn, lounging round the pool and trying to keep out of the sun, spare a thought for your guitar.

Fridge web

If you follow these simple guidelines your guitar should survive these summer time blues. Or of course you could just buy a cool Marshall fridge......

·         Do not leave your guitar in a case in a closed car on a hot day, even in the car boot.

·         Do not leave your guitar exposed to direct sunlight for any length of time, even through a closed window.

·         While travelling make sure your guitar case is protected from the sun by a blanket or some other insulating cover.

·         Purchase a humidifier from your dealer and follow the instructions on the packet if storing your guitar for an extended period.

·         If you avoid leaving your guitar in conditions you would find uncomfortable your is unlikely to develop any significant problems.

The last thing to be aware of is that even when you take all the above steps, the wood of your guitar will respond to dry conditions by shrinking a little across the grain. This may result in a lower action, slightly protruding fret ends and some unusual buzzes. These usually correct themselves once conditions return to normal.

And the best way to look after your guitar over summer……..Play it a lot!

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Category: FatTrax Blog