TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 24 Signal Processing

The TCM Home Music Studio series of blogs has so far covered – setting up your room, choice of essential gear, microphone techniques and recording various instruments.

There’s still lots more we’ll be covering in future blogs – signal paths, MIDI, the recording process, overdubbing, editing, mixing, mastering…..the list goes on. So if you have any questions on what has been covered so far, please drop us a line or get in touch with us. Contact details are here.

Each Channel Strip On The Mixer Comprises A Trim Pot, EQ, Aux Sends, Pan Pot, Solo, Mute, Assign Switches and Fader.

At some point, whether it’s in the recording process or the mixdown stage you will want and sometimes need to use some signal processing.

Technology has advanced so much that you can now alter your recording in so many ways, that the end result can bear little resemblance to the original sound.

Various Plug-Ins – Equalisation and Dynamics above,

Effect Bundle And Amp Farm Below.

If you want to get creative, there is a vast selection of tools available. The options are almost limitless – just don’t get too carried away. Adding too much or too many effects to an instrument or a mix can ruin the sound completely. For a small selection of what is available, click here.

There are three main categories of signal processing.

  • EQ or Equalisation. This is where you make adjustments to the frequency balance of voices and instruments. Either to clean up unwanted buzzes or hums in the recorded signal or to enhance the sound of an instrument, so that it sits comfortably in the mix. EQ can be applied whilst recording or in the mix stage or both.
  • Dynamic Processing. Compressors, Expanders, Limiters and Gates are used to control the dynamic range of instruments (smoothing out level differences), reduce the level of unwanted noise or add much needed punch to a drum track for instance.
  • Effects Processing. This category covers everything from enhancing a vocal performance with an Aural Exciter to putting a guitar through an array of FX pedals that include fuzz, distortion, chorus, delay etc. Typically effects are added to improve the sound of an instrument or make it unusual/more interesting.

A ‘Typical’ Fx Pedal Setup For A Guitarist.

Some engineers will use EQ or apply an effect to an instrument whilst recording it. For example, if an echo or wah-wah effect is an integral part of the player’s sound on a solo then you (and the player) would most likely want to record that effect with the performance, at the recording stage.

To allow flexibility at the mix stage, you would want to record the clean instrument to one track and the effect on the instrument to another, but you would record both at the same time. This enables the player to hear the full effect of the sound and possibly adjust his/her playing accordingly but also allows you as the engineer to use as much or as little of the effect in the mix stage.

Old But Still In Use By Yours Truly – Korg A5 Multi FX Outboard For Guitar.

There will be other instances where you decide to record an instrument clean (without EQ or effects) and then add any desired signal processing later in the mix stage. You will need to determine which approach suits you best for each voice or instrument you record.

The way you connect your signal processor in the audio chain is important.

If you connect it directly into the channel strip of your mixer (line/insert) you are placing it directly in the signal path. This will result in the clean instrument signal and the processed signal being added and mixed. This method is most useful for equalisers and dynamic processors.

Logic For Mac – Showing Several FX Sends On A Drum Setup.

The alternative is to split part of the signal into an auxillary bus (send/return). This essentially sends the signal down a different path, where you can route it through an effect processor like a reverb or chorus, allowing you to record both the clean and the effected signals on different tracks.

If you’re working in the analog world with a multitrack recorder, you will access signal processing either through your mixing desk/board or specifically designed outboard gear. Connecting most outboard gear will be done with patch cords.

However, if you’re using something like Logic or Pro Tools then you will have access to various ‘plug-ins’ that are usually supplied with the programme. Connections will be made internally within the programme, so there is no need for patch cords unless you decide to use a specific piece of outboard gear that gives you a particular effect.

See your Pro Tools or programme specific manual for details on how to set up busses, sends and returns.

Of course you have the option of adding more plug-ins/effects, but the various EQs, flange, chorus, compressor, reverbs and delays that come with even the most basic Pro Tools set up are usually enough to get you started.

The principle is the same whether you are working in analog or digital. As most Home Studios (due to cost limitations) will be digital and Pro Tools is so common in both Home and Professional Studios, this is the system we will use in our discussions.

Ultrabeat – Drum Synthesiser For Logic. One of many Superb Software Instruments Available.

Incidentally, Pro Tools is available for Mac and Windows platforms, whereas Logic is now only available for Mac – it used to work on both platforms prior to version 6.

Next week we’ll continue looking in more detail at the various types of EQ (parametric and graphic), dynamic processors (compressors, expanders, limiters and gates) and effects processors (reverbs, delays, chorus, pitch change etc). Then follow on with specific tips on how to use the various most common processors.

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If you already have a working Home Studio and have some music tracks that need that final polish. Check out the TCM Mastering site. Or contact us with your questions by clicking here.

Explore posts in the same categories: Music, Recording Studios, Sound Recording

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  1. […] usb – sound card – 16-bit – 48 khz – 88 dba snr – stereo – usbTCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 24 – SIGNAL PROCESSING body { background-image: […]

  2. […] using EQ and other processes at the record stage…..we discussed some of the pros and cons in this blog which considered Signal […]

  3. […] took a first look at signal processing in this blog…..TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Part 24 – Signal Processing. We then went on to consider in some detail, various types of EQ (graphic, parametric), dynamics […]

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