In addition to knowing your environment one of most important things to remember is to get the best recording possible. I always hear “lets fix it in the mix” or “once its mastered it will sound better.” This is NOT true if you don’t have a good recording. It all starts with choosing the proper microphone for your audio source. For this example let’s discuss vocals.
Recording in an isolated vocal booth or an acoustically treated live room will help make sure that your aren’t recording anything that you don’t want to. Every room has its own tone and depending on where you record, it will alter the sound of your recordings.
A condenser mic is usually the best choice for vocals paired with a good preamp to make sure you get some solid signal. Using high quality mic cables will help ensure you don’t have a noisy signal. (crackles static or pops) Using an eq to cut everything below 80hz will help remove any unwanted noise as vocals typically range from 80hz to 3000hz. There are some good noise re- duction plugins such as Waves NS1 if you have to record in a really noisy environment.
Next a compressor will help keep your vocals audible and tame. From a whisper to a shout a compressor will help keep your vocals level depending on how much you compress. I tend to keep the compression very light when recording and will add additional compression once I’m ready to mix.
After you have cut out your unwanted noise and have dialed in the proper compression set- tings another EQ is sometimes used to find the “sweet spot” of your vocals to enhance it. I like to use the SSL eq. I spike my gain and pass through the frequencies until I find that sweet spot and then just adjust the volume accordingly.
Once recorded, using time based effects such as reverb and delay can make your vocal sound big or small depending on what settings you dial in. A long reverb can make your vocals sound large and airy, depending on how much dry/wet signal you allow it can also make the vocals sound far away. A reverb with a small decay time can make your vocal sound close and tight like you are right there in the room with the artist. I like to use a reverb calculator to get the per- fect settings for my song. Depending on what reverb size you are trying to achieve all you need to do is to type in the bpm of your song and the calculator will give you the proper pre-delay, decay and total reverb time.
Delay can help you achieve a similar effect. Fast tempo songs will require shorter times so you don’t crowd the performance while slow tempo songs may have space in between each phrase and a long delay will help fill up space. Most delay plugins are tempo synced but you can also use a delay calculator if you wish.
All these techniques put together will help you achieve a more studio quality sound from home but nothing beats the real thing. Its the acoustically treated environment and the years of experience that the sound engineer has that will ultimately take your song to the next level. Stay tuned for part 3 for more tips and techniques that will help you sound like a pro from home.