musicmoney.gifSome of the easiest ways to improve your recordings are also the cheapest. In fact, the most effective techniques require no money at all.

Here’s a collection of tips you might find helpful the next time a pricey piece of gear stands between you and great recordings.

Help from others

Have a friend perform: Home recording, especially for singer/songwriters and electronic musicians, often involves a single musician writing and recording all the music. But artists in this situation can find themselves too close to the song, at mix time, to make decisions critically.

Working with other musicians might initially complicate recording and mixing. However, creating a great mix depends, in part, on your ability to remove unnecessary details, and most of us are more comfortable objectively critiquing someone else’s work. So asking a friend (or some professionals) to perform a track or two will ultimately (more…)

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distortionThe process of normalization often confuses newcomers to digital audio production. The word itself, “normalize,” has various meanings, and this certainly contributes to the confusion. However, beginners and experts alike are also tripped up by the myths and misinformation that abound on the topic.

I address the 10 most common myths, and the truth behind each, below.

Peak Normalization

First, some background: While “normalize” can mean several things (see below), the myths below primarily involve peak normalization.

Peak normalization is an automated process that changes the level of each sample in a digital audio signal by the same amount, such that the loudest sample reaches a specified level. Traditionally, the process is used to ensure that the signal peaks at 0dBfs, the loudest level allowed in a digital system.

Normalizing is indistinguishable from moving a volume knob or fader. The entire signal changes by the same fixed amount, up or down, as required. But the process is automated: The digital audio system scans the entire signal to find the loudest peak, then adjusts each sample accordingly.

Some of the myths below reflect nothing more than a misunderstanding of this process. As usual with common misconceptions, though, some of the myths also stem from a more fundamental (more…)

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Sound waveThe easiest way to move a track “back” in a mix is to lower its volume. This works because in our everyday lives, sounds get quieter as they recede from us, so we’re accustomed to the effect.

But our brains also use other cues to determine distance. For example, human hearing excels at matching a sound with the echoes and reflections it causes, to localize its source. And we can apply this principle to add realism when creating the (more…)

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My apologies if you tried to reach Hometracked earlier and saw a 503 error. The site got a little busy – visitors from Digg, Reddit, and the awesome AbsolutePunk – and Dreamhost throttled my bandwidth. (So much for the 10Tb, I guess.) No matter, everything looks to be running again, and the hate-mail from angry NFG fans has let up.

It’s a good time to point out, though, that if you subscribe to Hometracked updates via RSS (click here, or use the links on the left), you take Dreamhost’s whims out of the equation. I publish a full feed, so you can read all Hometracked’s articles in their ad-free entirety within your feed reader.

Anyway, back to the good stuff!

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Elvis-style vintage microphoneHere are some tips and techniques for treating vocal tracks with EQ while mixing.

Most importantly: Every voice is different, and every song is different. That advice bears remembering, even if you’ve heard it dozens of times. When you find yourself approaching a vocal mix on auto-pilot, applying effects “because they worked last time,” consider disabling the EQ altogether to gauge just how badly the adjustments are needed.

Reasons to EQ: The 3 main reasons to filter a vocal with EQ are
 1) to help the voice sit better in the mix,
 2) to correct a specific problem, and (more…)

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FadersPitch correction software has applications from restoration and mix-rescue to outright distortion of a voice or instrument. I’ll discuss some of the more tasteful uses of these auto-tune tools (whether the original from Antares, or a variant like the free GSnap) below. But first I thought I’d highlight their misuse to illustrate the effects we usually try to avoid.

So, listen here to 10 of pop music’s most blatant auto-tune abuses:

If you’re unfamiliar with Auto-tune, and especially if you listen to much pop and rock, you might not hear it initially. When overdone, the effect yields an unnatural yodel or warble in a singer’s voice. But the sound is so commonplace in modern mainstream music that your ears may have (more…)

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Mix desk fadersThis tip arises in most discussions of good equalizer technique: “Use narrow adjustments when cutting frequencies, and wide adjustments when boosting.”

There are some great reasons to heed this advice. But they’re not immediately obvious, especially if you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with parametric EQs, and they’re rarely fully explained. I’ll explain and demonstrate below, and you can use the information to improve your EQ adjustments, and in turn your mixes. (more…)

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friday-beer.jpgA few Homerecording.com regulars debate the merits of dithering. The conversation could easily have devolved into a flame war, but the participants kept it civil, and offered some great food for thought.

Some engineers even argue over which type of dither is best, claiming this algorithm is more airy sounding that that one, and so forth. But just because everyone believes this, does that make it true?

That quote comes from Ethan Winer’s great summary of his position on the matter – he’s squarely in the “dithering is usually not needed” camp.

I tend to agree with Ethan. Responsible mixing engineers don’t apply processing to a mix if they themselves don’t hear the effect of the processing. Simply put, if you can’t hear a difference, don’t make the change.

Unmitigated awesome: Daved Lee Roth’s vocal track from Runnin With The Devil, solo’d.

Converting Ikea bedside tables into studio racks: “the Rast bedside table makes a snug rack for music machines.”

Two unrelated sites feature famous songwriters discussing what went on behind the scenes as they wrote:

First, Joni Mitchell on the writing and recording of her most recent album:

When I recorded it, I was sick so a doctor prescribed some penicillin, which I had an allergic reaction to. I was delirious, stressed out, and we worked all night long. I was so delirious that I was playing way back on the beat… [I]n January 2007, I had demos of the Shine songs with me and played them to some friends at a party afterward. James Taylor told me that he had to play on this song. I wasn’t sure if anyone could because it was created in such a rare spirit. But James came in anyway and I asked him to play short figures like a saxophone. So you can hear fractions of James’ guitar playing here.

Jim Vallance’s site has some fantastic insight into the mind of a professional songwriter. Jim, who’s worked with Aerosmith, Ozzy, Bryan Adams, The Scorpions, and Thornley, meticulously lists every song he has ever written. The site is full of anecdotes and details about his creation process.

On our very first basement demo of “Summer of ’69″ we started the song with the 12-string riff, exactly like the “break down” section in the middle of the song … but on subsequent demo’s we replaced the 12-string with a chunky 6-string intro. In fact, we toiled over the musical arrangement for several weeks, maybe longer. We recorded the song three or four different ways, and we still weren’t convinced we had it right! Bryan even considered dropping the song from the Reckless album.

Now, 20 years later, when I hear “Summer of ’69″ on the radio, I honestly can’t remember what bothered us.

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Sound WavesI keep a collection of audio samples designed to help check my monitor setup. Test tones, essentially, that I use after I’ve moved my speakers or desk, to ensure the speakers still behave as they should.

I’ve included 4 of the samples below, and I hope you find them useful – and possibly enlightening. Each tests a facet of the two most common monitoring problems in home studios: Uneven bass response, and poor stereo imaging.

Sine wave sweep

Contents: A sine wave sweeping from 40Hz to 300Hz.
Use this to test for: Bass response, sympathetic vibrations.

Unless you’re outdoors, or listening on headphones, you’ll notice the volume rising and falling as the audio plays. That’s normal, although the level doesn’t actually change. (Open the MP3 in your DAW to confirm this.) Rather, you’re exposing the acoustic response of (more…)

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Hometracked NoteOver time, I’ve noted several questions that arise repeatedly on the web’s home recording forums. Each question reads as though it should have a simple answer, but none of them do. And indeed, the questions themselves betray their askers’ lack of experience with the subject.

In effect, posing one of these questions tells the world you’re an amateur. But I hope that by explaining why the questions don’t have the simple answers a rookie expects, you’ll appreciate how an experienced engineer thinks about each problem, and be better equipped to identify gaps in your own knowledge. (more…)

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