Posted tagged ‘Multitrack recording’


June 11, 2012

TCM Mastering Home Music Studio Blog: Tips and Information

The TCM Mastering Home Music Studio blog series contains essential tips and information for the musician working at home.

It starts with setup at home and gear choices, continues with mic types and techniques and covers recording most of the common (and some not so common) instruments. It also explains the multitrack process including overdubbing, editing, mixing (with the use of signal processing) and mastering, plus a section devoted to MIDI.

Use the links below or the Tags on the right hand side of the page to find what you’re looking for.

Part 56 – Mastering

MIDI Setup For Keyboard And Sequencer.

Part 52 – Intro To MIDI

Part 45 – Mixing Drums

Vocal Split Over Multiple Tracks With Different EQ Settings.

Part 39 – Mixing Vocals

Part 35 – Editing Music

A Basic Multitrack For A Low Budget Setup.

Part 29 – Multitrack Recording

Part 24 – Signal Processing

Using Coffee Filter Papers On Drums And Cymbals.

Part 19 – Recording Drums

Part 11 – Recording Acoustic Stringed Instruments

Tuning Piano To Concert Pitch.

Part 8 – Recording Piano

Part 1 – Your Room

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Take a look at some of the clients TCM has worked with recently.

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October 31, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 35 Music Editing

So far the TCM Mastering Home Music Studio series has covered room setup,  gear purchase, microphone techniques, how to record various instruments, signal processing and has now reached the multitrack process itself, which today is at the heart of many music recordings. We’ve discussed the recording and overdubbing stages. Last week we considered the different editing functions…..copy, paste, cut, delete, erase and insert. This week we’ll look at the ‘how to’ of editing, using digital technology.

Multitrack Tape Being Lined Up for Editing.

If you still use analog tape, you’ll know that it takes time to acquire the skills of editing. Partly because the physical act of handling and cutting the tape will eventually result in the degradation of the audio if lots of edits are made. So getting it right first time is important.

If any of you are interested in how tape was edited, click here for an article which explains the process. The only thing I’d add to this article is that multitrack tape was indeed edited, despite what the article says. Other than that it explains the technique very well.

Whilst we’re on the subject of tape editing…..those of you who are Doctor Who fans (and I know there are many, both here in the UK and in the USA), may find this video of interest.

As a music editor in my first job, even if I made a great sounding edit, a client could ask me to try an alternative edit. Which meant pulling apart the tape at the splice, re-inserting the edited out section and cutting the tape again. It could get quite messy!

Digital editing allows you to make several attempts to get an edit right without harming the original audio. Consequently, you can experiment and try different versions of songs until you get the desired result.

Most systems have an ‘Undo’ function. Some early or basic systems may only provide you with one level of undoing an edit. But today’s top programmes usually give you several levels of undo. Which means you can try a complicated sequence of edits to achieve the desired result and if you don’t like what you hear, you can undo your edits to the position prior to editing. It’s also worth mentioning that if you used the Undo function by mistake, you can ‘Redo’ to reverse the Undo.

Some digital systems allow you to edit either aurally or visually. That is by either listening to the audio or looking at the waveform of the audio. I recommend systems that use a combination of both.

When editing an analog tape, the editor ‘rocks’ the tape back and forth over the playback head of the tape machine, so that he/she can hear and determine the exact point to mark and cut the tape. A similar technique has been adopted in many digital systems.

Pro Tools Scrubber Tool – Loudspeaker Icon.

For example, Pro Tools uses this technique and employs a tool which allows you to rock back and forth (or ‘scrub’ as it is termed) over the audio section you want to edit.

With the waveform visible on the edit page – as you scrub, you will hear the audio. Moving the scrubber tool from left to right will play the audio forward, from right to left will play it in reverse. The speed with which you drag your mouse will determine how fast and at what pitch the audio is delivered.You can also zoom into the waveform graphic which allows greater accuracy when trying to find a specific point in the audio.

With practice, you’ll identify the correct point to edit. It will take a little time, but eventually you will be able to listen to a piece of audio and look at a waveform and know exactly where a particular sound starts and ends.

Pro Tools Scrubber Tool – Scrubbed Left To Right Plays Audio Forward, Right To Left Reverse.

Once you have found the right point in your audio, you can either trim the audio from the front or the end to the edit point. Or you can make a ‘cut’ at the edit point. Then find your next cut or edit point which then allows you to remove the unwanted section or region (as it is termed in Pro Tools), or copy it to paste somewhere else in your song.

And remember, in Pro Tools and most other top systems this editing process is non-destructive. You can always go back to your original audio file and start again.

Reminder: We use Pro Tools in a lot of our examples because it is a very sophisticated system, reasonably priced and popular with many world-class studios and musicians.

Logic Pro – The Scissor Tool Allows You To Scrub Then Cut Audio.

Scrubbing works slightly different in other systems, but the principle is basically the same. And in some Studio-In-A-Box systems, editing functions can be quite basic or non-existent. So, if you think editing is an important feature for you, choose your system carefully.

If you are still deciding on which system to buy, these features and others are worth playing with, before you purchase.

Pro Tools is very popular for obvious reasons, but it’s not for everyone.

Let’s look at a couple of examples where editing is useful…..

Pro Tools Edit Page – Showing 8 Drum Hits.

Example #1 – The picture above shows 8 kick drum hits. Note how each hit is quite distinct from the next. If, for example, one of the drum hits had an annoying squeak from the pedal, it would be easy to edit out the offending hit and replace it with a good hit.

A Closer Look At The Drum Hits, With One Good Hit Highlighted.

All we’d have to do is isolate/highlight a good drum hit. Copy it and paste it over the bad hit in the right position.

We’d do this by scrubbing  to find the very beginning of a good hit. Then make an edit point. Scrub to find the end of the good drum hit. Make another edit point. Highlight/select the edited, good region (see the picture above). Copy it – this places the good drum hit in the clipboard. Then find the exact start point of the bad hit. Make an edit point and paste the good hit at that point. This would cover the bad hit with the good whilst also leaving the good hit in its original position.

Of course, after you have finished an edit, always listen to it. If the timing is not quite right, you can nudge the region earlier or later until it sounds like it’s placed in the right position for the song’s tempo.

Pro Tools Smart Tool (In Blue) Consists Of The Trimmer, Cursor And Grabber Tools. To The Left Of The Smart Tool Is The Zoom Tool, To The Right Are The Scrubber And Pencil Tools.

You may still hear a portion of the bad drum hit, if its physical length is greater than the good hit. If that’s the case, in Pro Tools you can extend the good hit to cover the bad hit by pulling out the front or end of the copy/pasted file until the bad hit is completely covered, using the trimmer in the smart tool.

Example #2 – When vocals are recorded, an explosive pop can sometimes be heard on some hard consonants like ‘P’ or ‘B’. You could re-record the vocal in the hope that the singer would correct the problem.

Alternatively, if the mistake is noticed after the singer has left the session, you may have to try to fix the pop by editing it out or using signal processing.

The first picture below shows a magnified, waveform graphic of a ‘P’ popping at the beginning of the word PIECE. Pictures two and three, show the ‘pop’ part of the ‘P’ highlighted. It can then be edited out and a very quick fade-in applied to the remaining word. Or, gain reduction can be applied to minimize the audible pop to acceptable limits.

The High, Narrow Peak At The Left Of The Waveform Is An Explosive ‘P’ At The Beginning Of The Word PIECE.

The Picture On The Left Shows The Pop Of The ‘P’ Highlighted. This Can Be Cut Out And A Quick Fade-In Applied To The Remaining Word. Or The ‘P’ Can Have Gain Reduction Applied (Shown On The Right), Which Should Lessen The Audible Pop To Acceptable Limits.

With digital editing technology, you can literally perform microsurgery on your music – editing out the smallest click or ‘pop’.

Next week we’ll conclude our look at the editing stage by considering the use of some signal processors as editing tools. And we’ll discuss how editing can be much more than a tool for fixing problems.

We’ve been getting some great comments and feedback for the blog series, so thanks to those of you who contact us. If there’s a topic which you’d like us to cover, have any questions about the blog series so far, or any queries about the whole recording/mixing process – get in touch, by clicking here.

Do you have a project that needs a session musician, producing, mixing or mastering? – TCM Music Group are offering some really incredible recording and online mastering packages.


October 24, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 34 Music Editing

We started looking at the multitrack process in detail in TCM’s Home Music Studio Part 29. Over the last few weeks we’ve considered multitrack setups, signal paths, recording and last week – overdubbing.

This week and next we will continue looking at the multitrack process by discussing Editing.

When I started in this fantastic business, my first job was as a runner/teaboy. But within weeks I was promoted to Chief Editor (the only music editor as it turned out).  The company I worked for was very small, so somebody had to do it!

Cutting Tape Was The Method Of Editing Until Digital Came Along.

I had no idea how to edit music but I learnt very quickly. Analog reel to reel tape was the format. You edited the tape with a razor blade and stuck the edited sections back together with adhesive tape. If you made a mistake or the edit didn’t work, you had to retrieve the edited out section from the floor, stick it back in and try again.

Of course as I became more skilled, I made fewer mistakes and took on more complex projects. However, there were always going to be downsides to editing tape. The more you handled the tape, the more likely it could get damaged. Also handling tape with your fingers left behind oils which could lead to sound degradation.

24 Track 2 Inch Wide Tape Moving At High Speed. Editing Multitrack Tape Required Great Skill And Sometimes A Large Dose Of Luck!

If you only wanted to edit a single track of a multitrack tape – it got worse. You had to cut a hole or scrape the oxide off the back of the tape in the area of the track that needed editing.

Frank Zappa…..An Early User Of Digital Technology, With His Synclavier. It Was Not The Most User Friendly System, But Extremely Powerful (And Very Expensive).

Flash forward to the present day…..we now have digital editing. Some systems offer quite basic editing functions. Whilst the likes of Pro Tools, Logic Studio and other top systems offer facilities to manipulate your tracks in many ways.

Powerful Apple Logic Studio 9, Running On A Laptop.

As we have mentioned in earlier blogs, sound can now be edited much like the written word in an MS Word document. It can be copied, pasted, cut, deleted, moved, erased and inserted. If you include effects processing, you can also stretch or reverse it as well as a whole bunch of other things too. And any changes you make to the audio can be undone, because the original recording is not altered.

This is termed non-destructive editing. The various different audio parts (or regions as they’re known in Pro Tools) are accessed rapidly on the hard drive to produce the sequence of audio that is required. So this approach allows you to try out multiple edits without harming the original audio.

Pro Tools’ Smart Tool Combines Three Separate Tools.

In Pro Tools you select and edit audio using the ‘smart tool’. This combination tool allows you to grab audio and move it, trim the fronts and ends of regions (making the regions shorter or longer) or simply select a point in the audio to play from or highlight a region.

When you record sound into a digital system like Pro Tools, it gets stored as an audio file on the hard drive…..there are various file formats (.Wav, .Aiff, .SD2). It also gets drawn as a waveform in the edit page.

Audio Waveform & MIDI Displayed In Edit Page.

When you trim or edit the audio file in the edit page, you are basically telling Pro Tools to only look at and playback the part of the audio file that is on the page. The unedited version of the file still exists in its entirety on the hard drive.

Below, I describe the various common editing functions, first in summary then below the diagram, in more detail.

The 9 bars to the left represent a track of audio, that has been edited in different ways.

#1 Is the track before editing. The grey shaded area is the section to be edited.

#2 This shows the track after using Cut, leaving a blank hole (some systems).

#3 Cut on some other systems.

#4 Track after Delete.

#5 Track after Erase.

#6 Shows the audio track before editing, showing Insert point.

#7 Track after Insert.

#8 Track with edit point prior to using Paste.

#9 The Paste function places the Copied audio from your clipboard over existing audio.

Now the various editing functions in more detail…..

Cut, Delete and Erase – these three functions all do the same thing to a selected piece of audio. They make it disappear…..but, they differ in how they treat the audio once it’s gone.

Cut removes the audio section and places it in your clipboard for further use. Some systems leave behind a hole where the audio resided. Others, may close the gap by moving forward, everything that’s later in the timeline, so that the hole is filled. Some systems allow you to choose one or the other.

Delete gets rid of the selected audio on the edit page and does not allow the placement of it anywhere else. The audio still exists on the hard drive, just not on the page. The later audio material is usually moved earlier to fill the hole. Again, some systems may give you options.

Erase is similar to Delete, except that the audio after the removed segment, stays put.

MIDI Editing – Many Of The Functions Used For Audio Editing Can Be Applied To MIDI Data Too.

Insert – effectively allows you to squeeze a section of audio between edit points. Let’s say you’ve finished recording a song. It’s got an intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, a middle 8 or bridge, and end chorus. But you feel it would sound better with a longer bridge or another verse. You could copy the backing tracks for the bridge or verse and insert them into the appropriate point in the song. Then play an extended guitar solo over the longer bridge or sing the newly written vocals over the added verse.

This technique can be used for single tracks or multiple tracks, as long as care is taken to make sure the tempos are the same, you are copying the correct number of bars and placing them at exactly the right point in the song…..and again, this saves you having to set up mics and instruments to make a new recording.

Copy and Paste – these two functions are often used together, just like in a Word document. Copy does what it says, it makes a copy of whatever you select and (usually) puts it in your clipboard. It leaves the original where it is. But then allows you to paste the copy somewhere else.

Shaded Area Shows Section or Region To Be Edited.

So let’s say the above picture represents a region of a guitar track. Later in the song the same guitar chords are played but there’s a mistake. Editing could allow you to copy the good section of guitar chords and paste them over the bad section. Providing you placed them in the correct position (sync), nobody would know you’d done an edit. It saves getting the guitarist back, besides he may be on tour in Japan by now!

Next week we’ll get into editing aurally and visually, fixing bad notes or phrases and discuss some effects which are used in editing eg. pitch change, stretching and reversing.

If you have any questions so far, our contact details are here. We love to hear from you.

And don’t forget, TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group provide a professional, fast and affordable service to musicians of all genres.

So if you have some songs that need producing, recording, mixing or mastering contact us for details on our rates and some incredible recording packages.


October 10, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 32 Multitrack Recording

Most Home Music Studios today, are built around a computer system of some sort…..whether that system be a software programme, a Studio-In-The-Box or a Digital Audio Workstation. They all provide the facility of being able to record and playback multiple tracks.

Fostex MR-8 MkII 8 Track Digital Recorder, Basic Multitrack But Very Portable.

A basic system might only provide a handful of tracks, whilst a full-blown professional system like Logic or Pro Tools, could provide 100’s of audio and MIDI tracks allowing the most complex projects to be recorded and mixed.

Over the last few weeks we have discussed multitrack system setups and the various points in a signal’s path… using session templates can save you time…..setting and monitoring levels through the signal path.

This week we’ll look at the use of EQ, dynamic and effects processing at the record stage, recording that first take, using punch-ins and the importance of saving your work.

There are two schools of thought with regards to using EQ and other processes at the record stage…..we discussed some of the pros and cons in this blog which considered Signal Processing.

For those of you who are just joining us in this series of blogs, the important thing to remember (as I’ve said before), is that if you choose to add any processing to the recorded signal on the same recorded track, it cannot be removed, which could limit your options later on.

Pro Tools – Extremely Versatile, Professional System…Multiple Audio And MIDI Tracks, Routing Options, Plug-Ins. It’s Hard To Beat.

That may be okay if you’re simply using a bit of light compression (dynamic processing) on an instrument, but unacceptable if you’re adding heavy distortion (effect processing) to a guitar, which you then regret at the mix stage. So, if at all possible, record your clean instrument and effect on separate tracks of your recorder. Keep your options open for as long as possible.

We’ll assume you have spent time getting the best mic position and taken care plugging your instruments into your mixer or preamp to get the best sound without extraneous noises, buzzes or hums. It is often wise (at the record stage), to reserve the use of EQ to fix unwanted frequencies you might be picking up. Your aim is to get a good, clean sound from your instrument or vocalist.

Digirack De-Esser.

Maybe, despite having tried several mic positions, your vocalist still sounds very sibilant…..some voices are just more sibilant than others. The use of a De-esser (which is a frequency specific compressor) can be used to target the harsh ”s” sounds in the 6-8kHz frequency range, although you can get sibilance outside this range too. If you were to use just EQ on a track, you need to be aware that the whole vocal sound would be affected.

Or possibly, the bass guitar or kick drum might benefit from cutting some low mid-range frequencies to give a bit more punch and reduce muddiness. They normally work ‘as a team’ in a mix, so you don’t want them to clash or mask one another. You should be able to hear them both whilst enhancing the overall final mix. EQ can help separate the two instruments and let them both shine.

Just remember to check levels going to your recorder if you have made some EQ adjustments, because the levels may have changed.

Once you’re satisfied that you have set up your system for recording and that you have a good signal-to-noise ratio, it’s time to record.

Fourteen Instruments In One – Multitracking Makes It A Lot Easier For Today’s One Man Bands.

Let’s use Pro Tools as our system example again. To keep things simple, we’ll assume you’re a one man band who is going to record yourself singing, playing acoustic guitar and adding various other instruments. The use of a click track is favoured by some. But ultimately, it’s down to personal preference.

Most systems allow you to enter a start or cue point. This will allow you to jump back quickly to the beginning of your track. You will likely record several ‘takes’ of an instrument and/or vocal before you’re happy with a performance. Then you will move into the overdubbing stage, adding more instruments. So having a start point will save you time.

Session With Cue Points.

As you proceed through the track, you will find it useful to add several cue points. For example, first verse, second verse, chorus, middle 8 or solo. This enables you to quickly locate a specific point in your song that needs working on.

Now, arm the track your instrument or voice is routed to, by pressing the track’s record enable button. If you’re using a separate recorder there will be a record button for that too either on the machine itself or on a remote panel. Then, on Pro Tools, hit record on the transport window……on analog multitrack machines, you may need to hold down the record button whilst hitting play.

At this point the track should be recording. If you now sing or play your instrument, you should see level registering on the track meter. In Pro Tools and other similar systems you will see a waveform being produced in the edit page, as you play. If you’re using an analog machine you should see the meter registering level.

When you’re finished playing, hit the stop button and cue back to the start. Disarm the track to make it safe for playback. Make sure the track fader is up so that you can hear your performance. If you don’t like what you hear, you can do another ‘take’ and another….. (you get the idea) …..until you get something you do like.

Pro Tools – You Can Name Your Tracks. Also, Track Types Are Denoted By Different Icons…A Waveform Denotes Audio, A Down Arrow Denotes An Auxiliary Track.

It’s worth naming your tracks prior to recording, so that each audio file recorded on the track gets named something useful eg. El. Guitar 1, Fretless Bass etc, as opposed to simply Audio 01, 02 etc.

In many programmes including Pro Tools, each ‘take’ is saved in your audio files folder and numbered. So if you accidentally record over your first take with a second, that first take would still be accessible on your hard drive.

However, it’s always worthwhile hitting ‘Save’ every few minutes, this will save all the information and settings in your session, not just the audio files. You can also set up an autosave which will save your session every 5, 10,15 minutes…..whatever you set.

Punching in and out is a technique that can be used on analog multitracks as well as digital systems. For example, if a specific guitar phrase is proving problematic, you can ‘punch’ into record just before the phrase and ‘punch’ out after it. It’s also sometimes referred to as dropping in and out of record.

Whilst the track is in play mode you hit the record button at the appropriate point and hit play or stop to punch out.

Pro Tools – Punch In & Out Recording.

With a digital system you can also programme the track to go into record and out at specified points. This can be repeated or looped as many times as you want until you get the performance you’re happy with. Once you’re done just hit stop.

One of the biggest advantages of programming the in and out is that you can concentrate on just the playing. It also allows you to punch in and out over very small passages. From replacing a single bum note, to  a single bad snare hit.

Editing can also help you out in these situations, but we’ll get to that in a week or so.

Be aware, if you use this technique on an analog machine you will destroy the part of the ‘take’ you record over. Pro Tools (and other good systems) is non destructive and will keep all your attempts, so if you decide that punch in 5 was better than final take 8 you can retrieve it and put it back in your track.

So, in our example you now have a guitar or guitar and vocal recorded. This initial recording could end up being a guide for the other tracks to work with, or if the quality is good enough, could be part of the final mix.

Next week we’ll continue by looking at Overdubbing to continue the process.

TCM Music Group & Mastering.

And if you need some music advice, help with production, recording, mixing or mastering, TCM are here to help….. drop them a line or call them to discover some of the great deals on offer at the moment.


October 3, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 31 Multitrack Recording

At TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group we love what we do. We love music. So if you have any questions please feel free to drop us a line or call us. Our contact details are here.

We started outlining the multitrack process in TCM Mastering’s Home Music Studio Part 29. Then last week we discussed basic setups (MIDI or Live band) and signal paths.

Before we embark on the Recording stage, it may be useful to refer back to a few earlier blog posts.

Mic Selection And Polarity Patterns.

If you want to read more on microphone types and techniques look at parts 5 and 6.

The Glyn Johns 3 Mic Technique For Recording Drums.

Check out parts 9 and 10 for recording guitars…..followed by strings, horns and woodwind, then drums kicked off in part 18 going through to part 23 for percussion.

Signal Processing – Dynamics And EQ Plug-Ins.

Signal processing started at part 24 and the multitracking process came in at 29.

 TCM Editor’s Note: In order to keep the blogs to a reasonable length every week, we have to make some assumptions. But if you have questions – please let us know by dropping us a line.

Assuming most of you are working in the digital realm, to start recording you will need to open up a new session in your software programme or Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).

Pro Tools I/O Setup Matrix Page.

If we use Pro Tools on a Mac as our example…..when you first open up a new session, there are no tracks or mix channels set up. You have to create ‘new’ tracks, set up input/output (I/Os) routings, set your sampling (44.1/48/96 kHz) and bit (16/24 bit) rates etc.

If you are setting up the same parameters, inputs/outputs, plug-ins, tracks and instruments for each session, you will want to put together a Template session. Pro Tools 9 offers several ready to use Templates (see pix below), but it’s also easy to make one to your own specific requirements.

Pro Tools Offers Various Ready To Use Templates.

For example, you could have a Template setup for a 4 piece band or a MIDI setup depending on how you work.

It’s a similar concept to the Word Processing Template, this will pull together all the common things you want in your session, so that you don’t have to start from scratch every time…..a huge time saver.

There will be slight differences for a PC. And other programmes will be different again. But most offer this facility as well as many other time saving options, which you should explore to make your recording experience easier and more efficient.

Remember each system is different, so for specific details read your user manual.

Recording Electric Guitar In Home Studio.

So your DAW is set up and ready for recording. Make sure your input and mixer fader (real or virtual) are turned down all the way. This is just good practice to prevent any unwanted clicks or snaps damaging the speakers (and your ears) when connecting anything.

Plug in the mic or instrument into the correct input of your mixer or interface. Remember an electric or bass guitar will probably need to go through a DI box or into the Hi-Z input and condenser mics will need phantom power.

Providing You Have Setup Your I/Os Correctly, You Should See Your Track Meter Registering Some Activity When There Is A Sound Source Present.

In your programme or DAW, choose the track you want to record to. Providing you have set up I/O routings (as part of your Template) you can then arm the track for record. In Pro Tools you can arm your track in either the Edit or Mix page.

As mentioned in last week’s blog, take care to set the optimum level at each stage of the signal path. Remember your aim is to record the best quality sound signal into your DAW. You want the highest level at each stage with as little noise as possible (a high signal-to-noise ratio) and without distortion or clipping.

There Are Various Types Of Meters To Measure Sound Levels.

Instruments and voices have dynamic range, so you need to allow for the highest peaks and transients from them. Recording in the digital realm is nowhere near as forgiving as analog tape. So if your system allows, always use 24 bit rate over 16 bit, this will give you better signal-to-noise, and remember to peak your recording level no higher than about minus 6-8dB.

Whilst recommending the higher bit rate, I should mention that a 3 minute song with say, 16 tracks recorded at 24 bit rate and 44.1 kHz sample rate will  need about 360 MB of space on your hard drive. If you choose a 96 kHz sample rate you’d be looking at double this amount.

I also recommend you use a separate hard drive from your computer system drive for storing all your audio files and session data, with as much storage space as possible. Audio sessions can use up an awful lot of space.

And whilst we’re on the subject of equipment, don’t under-estimate the importance of a good pair of monitor speakers. To record and mix effectively, you need a pair of monitors that do not colour the sound. Some speakers may accentuate high frequencies whilst some enhance the bass.

KRK VXT6 Active Studio Monitors.

Monitor speakers are available as either Passive or Active. Passive monitors require a separate amp to power them, much like speakers in a Hi-Fi. Active monitors have their own built-in amps. There are plenty of choices on the market in all price ranges. So go for the best you can afford.

A Single Analog Mixer Channel Strip, Split Into 3 Sections For Easy Viewing: Section A – Input Pot & Preamp Plus EQ…..Section B – Aux & Monitor Sends…..Section C – Fader, Pan, Mute, Solo & Bus Assigns Switches.

Meter levels can often be monitored at different points in the signal path but not all systems are the same.

The Prefader Input Level shows you the level of signal entering the mixer channel before it passes through the fader and channel EQ. How much level the meter registers depends on how loud or soft the sound source is and the adjustment of the trim pot (or input gain pot). If you’re using a separate preamp you can make adjustments on the preamp’s trim pot. And if you’re recording with a mic, the position and proximity of the mic will affect the level of your sound source too.

Logic Studio And Cubase Record Pages, Both Systems Offer Excellent Facilities.

The Postfader Input Level shows the signal level after passing through the channel strip including the fader and any EQ adjustments that have been made. The level you see here is different to the prefader level only if the channel trim pot is in a position other than unity gain or if EQ has been adjusted in some way.

The Prefader Track Level is the level actually being recorded on the hard drive or recorder. If you’re setup uses a separate analog mixer and a stand alone recorder, this level is shown on the recorder not the mixer.

The Postfader Track Level displays the level after you have made changes to the track channel’s fader and EQ. This level will only be different to the Prefader Track Level if adjustments have been made to the track fader level and/or EQ.

The Meter Level On The Pro Tools Master Track Represents The Sum Of All The Tracks Being Fed To It.

Master Bus Levels need to be monitored very carefully when mixing. In a typical session there will be many tracks being routed to the Master Bus. Which means that this level represents the sum of all those tracks.

The reason I mention these various points in the signal path is to make you aware that a problem with the sound could be at any one of these stages. If you hear distortion when recording, systematically check your various levels and trust your ears.

It’s also important to mention that in Pro Tools, a track’s channel fader only affects the track’s output level, it does not affect the input (record) level. That is set earlier in the signal chain at the sound source itself or the mic’s preamp.

If you want more information and are using Pro Tools, click here for an excellent article on headroom and the use of the Mix Bus. If you’re using MIDI with Pro Tools you might find this article useful too.

Next week we will continue with the Recording stage by discussing the use of EQ and Effects, recording your first take, punching in and the importance of saving your work.


September 25, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 30 Multitrack Recording, Setup & Signal Paths

Last week we outlined the multitrack process from – Setup, Recording, Overdubbing, Editing, Mixing to Mastering. Over the next few weeks we’ll look at each stage in detail. Starting this week with Setup and an explanation of what to look out for with signal paths.

 A Compact MIDI Based Home Music Studio.

A home studio that is based primarily around MIDI (short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface) and keyboards is going to have quite a different setup to a studio that will be working with acoustic instruments or a band. For the latter, you will need a much larger collection of mics (obviously!), and enough space to accommodate all the players.

MIDI is a widely used industry standard protocol that allows various electronic instruments (and computers) to talk to, and synchronise with, each other. MIDI doesn’t contain sound as such, but describes the performance information…..which notes are played, when and for how long… hard or soft a note is played…..after-touch pressure…..pitch wheel information etc.

MIDI Setup: If you’re primarily working solo in your home studio and are a keyboard player, chances are you will want to base your setup around MIDI. If you’re not a keyboard player, there are other instruments eg. guitar, saxophone or drums that can be used as MIDI controllers.

The beauty of MIDI is that each instrument part can be programmed perfectly. Pitch, velocity, timing are just a few of the parameters that can be edited. The downside is that MIDI can make a track sound too perfect and stiff, if not enough care and attention is given to producing a ‘human’ feel.

With MIDI, different instruments can be programmed to play the same performance. For example, if you performed a section of a music track with a piano sample, you could replace it or add another track quite easily with a string ensemble sample. This allows you to try out different sounds before committing to one.

Note: In order for different music samples to sound authentic, they do need to be played and phrased like the real instruments, within the appropriate tonal ranges. But with practice you can get very close to the feeling of the real thing.

Logic Pro Is A Top Quality DAW And Sequencer.

A MIDI based studio will have at its heart a sequencer. This device records and plays back the MIDI data. A computer based sequencer, allows both your audio tracks and MIDI tracks to be handled in one place and usually gives you more detailed editing capability than a stand alone sequencer box which might only have a small LCD screen.

A decent sound source or sound generator eg. MIDI keyboard, synthesiser or drum machine is essential for producing authentic sounding, quality instruments.

Drum And Keyboard MIDI Controllers.

You’ll need a MIDI controller, this generates and transmits MIDI data, allowing all your various components to work together. This could be part of your computer software or your main keyboard. A MIDI interface will also be required to connect your keyboards and other sound sources to your computer if that’s where your sequencer exists.

Apart from all of your MIDI components you’ll need a recorder. This is often part of the software programme in your DAW. And for those occasions when you want to add vocals over your instruments, a good quality mic or two will come in useful.

There are so many variations with a MIDI setup depending on the number of keyboards and other pieces of equipment, that there is no one ‘normal’ signal path. Having said that it’s not rocket science. We will delve into the ‘mysteries’ of MIDI in detail in a later blog.

A Four Piece Band Comprising – Guitar, Vocals, Bass And Drums.

Live Setup: This approach is favoured more by bands or groups of musicians – although many bands will use MIDI as part of their setup – and it assumes your studio space is big enough to record several musicians at the same time.

The advantage of recording a band ‘live’ is that there’s a better chance of capturing the magic of a complete performance. But if you don’t get the best mic for the job or the position is not right, or the band is under rehearsed, you could spend more time doing re-takes to fix mistakes or bad mic placement.

For acoustic instruments and vocalists, you will need a good selection of quality microphones, mic stands and cables. See this blog for more information on mics.

The electric and bass guitars may need DI boxes to interface with a mixer, but you can also mic up their amps.

Any keyboards or synths can usually be connected directly into a mixer if you’re recording audio only. If you want to capture MIDI information, you will need a MIDI interface.

A point worth mentioning is that it’s often worth recording MIDI as well as audio. With the MIDI data you can then try out different samples for the same performance without having to re-record.

Again, assuming most of you with home studios are using a DAW or software programme to record your performances, make sure your interface or mixer has enough inputs to record all instruments simultaneously, if that’s the approach you want to use.

If you’re a multi-instrumentalist working on your own you won’t need as many inputs for your setup, as you’ll be recording each instrument individually and overdubbing. But you may still want the flexibility, so make sure you don’t limit yourself by getting too basic a system, with too few facilities.

Being Organised Is Essential With Multiple Audio And MIDI Track Session. Colour Coding Tracks Allows You To Quickly Find Groups eg. Drums In Red.

Not having enough tracks is rarely an issue with most good programmes. Even Pro Tools LE (the basic option) supports 32 instrument tracks and over 200 MIDI tracks!

Ultimately, in a home studio you may need to compromise in one way or another, either by sub-mixing some instruments together eg. the drums or by recording the band in two passes. There’s always a solution to the problem, you just have to be creative and not too rigid in your approach.

You can of course borrow tips from both the MIDI and the Live setups. Tailor your session to what is needed. Don’t get stuck in a rut.

Signal Path: Whether you use a mixer and analog multitrack, a studio-in-the-box, Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase or any other make of software you will still have to get your signal into the recorder at the optimum level without unwanted distortion.

How A Full Band Setup Could Look.

For the purposes of this blog we will assume most home music studio setups are using some kind of digital software, but the principles are much the same whichever setup you own.

Note: Not all software is best suited for all jobs. Some is designed for bands others for MIDI setups. Each has its pros and its cons. Some can only be used on Macs, some on PCs and some on both. So do some research before you buy.

How good your finished recordings sound, depends on the quality of the instruments and players, and how good you are at getting those signals into your recorder (recording stage)…..and out again (mix stage).

Let’s consider an acoustic guitar which is being recorded into a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)…..something like Pro Tools or Logic. The guitar has new strings, it’s tuned and ready to go.

Using the best quality mic you have for recording guitar, connect the mic to a quality preamp. The mic converts acoustical energy into electrical energy. The preamp boosts the weak mic signal up to ‘line-level’.

If you’re signal is going into a stand alone mixer, you have more options for monitoring the audio…..pre- and post-fader input level, pre- and post fader track level, master bus level. We will cover this in more detail next week in Part 31 Recording.

The signal then continues into a soundcard, where it gets converted from analog to digital, before being sent to the computer and your recording software or DAW.

 It’s worth mentioning that most computers have their own built-in sound card. But they are usually quite basic. To achieve good recording results it’s worth investing in a separate soundcard that is specifically designed for the recording task. Make sure you select the external soundcard in your computer settings.

Digidesign (now Avid) make a great selection of interfaces, from the now classic Mbox to M Audio’s Fast Track audio and MIDI interfaces.

If Everything Is Connected And Setup Correctly, You Should See Signal Level On The Metering. Hit Record And You’re In Business.

Once the signal is in your DAW you will need to create a track and setup the correct input in your programme, for the signal to be recorded.

At each of the different stages, you will need to pay attention to the signal level. Levels should be high enough to get a good signal-to-noise ratio, but not so hot that they distort.

If you adjust level too low at one stage, you will end up having to raise it at another. Alternatively, if it’s too hot at the preamp stage, for example, you will need to lower it at a later stage in the signal path.

The optimum level at each stage will produce the best recording results.

Assuming you have everything setup correctly, if you play the instrument you should be able to see signal level on the metering for the track you’re recording onto. All that’s left is to hit the record button and you should be in business.

Small But Powerful Mixer Which Can Be Interfaced With Pro Tools Software.

If you’re using something like Pro Tools, there is a mix page in the programme where you can monitor incoming signals and make adjustments to your final mix. Or you could hook up an external mixer (like the ProjectMix I/O above), if you prefer to use real faders as opposed to moving faders on a page with a mouse.

It’s worth mentioning that audio recording and playing back uses up a lot of computer processing power, especially when you use lots of plug-ins. So it’s wise to go for the fastest computer, with the most RAM that you can afford.

Also, invest in a couple of hard drives. Use one drive for all your software and operating system (OS) and another for all the audio session files and data. This setup increases stability and helps to prevent crashes.

Glyph Hard Drive – Firewire 400/800 & USB 2.0

The drive in the computer is usually sufficient to handle the software and OS, but for the other make sure you get a fast (7200 rpm) drive with a fast seek time (less than 10 m/s), with at least an 8MB buffer and fast connection…..firewire works well. Check out this link for more information.

Don’t forget, if you have any questions about the blog series so far, or any queries about the whole recording/mixing process – get in touch, by clicking here.

Or if you have a project that needs a session musician, producing, mixing or mastering – TCM Music Group are offering some really incredible recording and online mastering packages.