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How has your recording technique changed over the years?


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I Am a Rocketship is the first time I've been the engineer, producer, arranger, whatever. Largely because we have no particular ambitions beyond playing our songs the way we want, and getting occasional play and reviews and gigs. We're starting our fourth album and I was tracking guitars today. I'm learning a lot doing this, and am curious from others if they have similar stories, and maybe we can all talk a little about what worked and what didn't work.

The late 1980s

I did an album and a single that got some honest-to-goodness airplay, recorded in the best studio Tallahassee, Florida had at the time. I was playing bass and just nodded and did what Fred, the engineer, told me to do. Big tape machines and rack gear and it cost us starving art students every penny we had. What I learned: Every single time between takes, you tune. Also basses sound best through a mic pre straight into the board. Obey the engineer. Also, tape is expensive.

The early 90s

Recorded an album with a very talented band, partly in a basement with a guy who's still a respected producer, and partly in one of Atlanta's biggest studios. The basement was freezing cold and I had to hold a wire in my teeth to solve some ground issue. We did very few overdubs, used expensive mics, and it sounded amazing. In the big studio we were all in iso rooms that faced in, so we could see each other, and it looked like how a studio in a movie should look. It didn't sound as good. What I learned: ears count for more than gear.

The mid 90s

Recorded an album with another crackerjack band, one who'd gotten great national press including 3-1/2 stars in Rolling Stone for the previous album. The label had even advanced some money for recording. After a year endlessly tracking and mixing in the guitarist's studio, no one was speaking, Syd Straw and Marti Jones had sung one of my songs and I wasn't invited, Don Dixon had replaced one of my takes and I wasn't told, the singer and guitarist were divorcing, and the drummer went home to Alabama, leaving his drums behind. What I learned: perfectionism is the enemy of good.

The early 00s

After a long break from music, I had a great band and went into Cleveland's finest studio to make an album. The engineer was fast and calm, we had a real Hammond B3 and a Steinway piano, and we got a new drummer halfway through - one so good he seamlessly re-tracked the old drummer's stuff, and was so deep in the pocket you'd be digging lint out of his grooves. What I learned: Your drummer is the key to your sound. Also, if the songs are tight before you start tracking, recording can be a joy.

Going into the 10s

Did a couple EPs, one in which we all tracked our parts at home and then sent the stems to the engineer, Oz Fritz, who I think had done some stuff for Ramones. The other was in a comfortable ramshackle studio full of analog gear with another of Atlanta's top guys, tracking pretty much live with no click. Both were loads of fun, and I was learning a lot about mic selection and placement, and the beauty of not polishing everything to death and being perfect.

Now

Recording at home and in our rehearsal space, I've slowly upgraded our computer interface from a Scarlett to an Audient, our mics from MXRs gotten cheap from Guitar Center to an Aston Orgin and some Sennheisers, our headphones from whatever was handy to Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic, and software from Garageband to Logic Pro. What I've learned: a 30ms delay panned to one side is your friend, selecting the right reverb is crucial, the fewer plug-ins the better, a lot about compressing and limiting, and get the basic guitar sound raw and loud from your amp but spend a lot of time on your modulation, delay and reverb in the software. Also, while auto-tune is great, it's best used very sparingly, and always on the chromatic setting.

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Man I’m right there with ya on the drummer being in the pocket!!! Bass has alway gone straight in. Guitars sometimes for supersparkle. Using 3 mikes on guitar amps and blend gives it some dimension, near, back a foot or 2 and room. Doubling tracks is a cool sound too!

That’s about all I got...  been a while.... 

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I started with a Fostex 4track cassette.  

With access to an Allen & Heath mixer and a DAT, I then used that then played along while mixing all those to a DAT. Bouncing those back to the 4 track, then adding one or two tracks until done. 

Worked in a 24 track all analog studio for a short time in the late 90s.  Great gear and awesomeness, of course.  

Currently, I use a MOTU 896HD and/or one of my modelers:  Helix or GT-1000.  Too close to an older neighbor to do loud guitar stuff.  Only using mics live and for vocals. 

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I have a pretty modest project studio, and I think where I've changed over the years is giving up trying to wring the same sounds out of it that I was getting at a place like Quad or Ocean Way.  Even if I had the chops to do pro recordings, there are limits with the gear I have.  

I've been really, really happy with the JBL 305p monitors and matching LSR310 sub.  The couple of mixes I've done sound EXACTLY the same coming out of a phone, car stereo, home stereo, or bluetooth speaker as they do playing back out of logic.  If it sounds like shit, it's definitely my fault.  I've been around everything from NS-10s to Dynaudio Acoustics M4+s, and I really feel like for under a grand that there's no better monitor solution out there at the moment. 

The only fun trick I know is pretty much old hat for any of y'all that do much recording.  But college kids just getting into it always find busing tracks through aux channels for universal effects like reverb to free up processor power or using parallel compression to make things pop more in a mix to be black magic. 

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4 track

guys bedroom studio

local Asheville studio

nuther local studio ( this is waaaay before the vaunted current scene )

* starts to understand these mutherfuckers are idiots...

4 track cause god damn these demos stink

11-11 Studio in Nashville

Power Station NYC ( now we are getting somewhere )

Beale St Studios  Memphis( I MAY be the last guitarist to record in a proper studio on Beale! )

Kiva Memphis ( nuther srv room! )

My basement armed w knowlege kinda like Page )

Southern Living at its Finest ATL

a studio in Asheville w the OP

nuther guys basement studio, man he really fucked me and our TSO Shishkov guy over, nuther story

Me and the Ipad, the be all end all

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6 hours ago, LucSulla said:

If it sounds like shit, it's definitely my fault.

THAT is a hard lesson to learn, but once ya do, yer playing, recording, and attitude toward life transform. Still working on that myself. I guess most of us are...

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Early '80s

College cover band needed a demo tape.  Went to keyboard player's friend's "studio", and Teac 3340 and some prosumer-grade mixer set up on a folding table is his mom's basement.  Results were predictably mediocre.  Listening to it today, I realize we hadn't yet learned the "tune before every take" rule.

 

Mid '80s

Friend's original band were breaking up, wanted to document they songs before members moved away.  Asked me to help with both guitar and engineering/production.  We borrowed another friend's Tascam 246.  We recorded the bass in the band's rehearsal room, just before they moved out.  To keep everything together, we recorded to a "click track", actually an old '70 Yamaha boom-chicka-chicka rhythm machine.  Then we recorded drums and guitars at another friends rehearsal space is his mom's basement.  We did the vocals in a spare bedroom at the singer's parents house, using an SM57 and SM58 we already had from playing live.  I mixed it on the floor of my apartment living room through my Yamaha receiver and a pair of mid-priced stereo speaker.  The only piece of outboard gear was a a Yamaha analog delay borrowed from yet another friend.  No reverb, no compressors.  Results were again mediocre, but at least the instruments were in tune.

 

2015

I found a guy who had a Tascam 246 in good repair and he kindly ripped my old 4-track cassette to digital files.  Upon hearing the raw stems, I was amazed at how good they were.  That 246 really captured a lot of detail.  The raw tracks sounded great but my original mix was pretty bad.  I set about learning DAW mixing with Reaper and remixed the 4-song demo, figuring out on my own how to use Reaper's compression and EQ.  Results were much better than the old cassette mix.

 

2020

While shut in due to COVID, I really started studying the how's and why's of mixing, on Internet forums and through YouTube videos by Rick Beato and others.  I got a few plugins of classic studio gear: compressors, channel EQs, tape delay) which are easier to reference to the videos and easier to operate.  The built-in Reaper VSTs tend to be very full-featured but lead to option paralysis. Old-school compressors with just 2 or 3 knobs and channel strips with just 3 bands of EQ are a lot easier to learn on.

My old college band have been recording some covers, swapping stems on Dropbox, and I've been mixing them.  Each of the three songs we've done so far has been better than the last, and I'm finally figuring out how to engineer and mix rock songs, 35 years down the road.  DAW technology really makes it possible, since back in the '80s I couldn't afford any outboard gear.  Now, if i need a compressor on a track, I just drop in a 1176 or LA2A emulation, and I can have as many as I need.

Edited by Rich_S
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1978: I have always been interested in recording as soon as I started playing. I first started with two cassette decks. One of mine and the other my brothers. Record on the left channel, bounce from the other deck and record to the right channel. Repeat until too much hiss. 😉

1981: Then when we started playing as a band I would record "live" using two Radio shack mics, one between the kick and the bass amp, and the other near the snare and the guitar amp. Sometimes would stick a boombox in front and mix those later using a small radio shack mixer I bought.

1984:   Next, we got an 8 channel powered mixing board and I could start adding mics for the drums and each amp and started buying better mics. Still was recording to a cassette deck but it was a pretty good quality at this time.

1986: A few years later a friend let me setup his 8 track reel to reel recorder and we recorded a few things with it but this. Also got a small 4 track recorder that we passed around and recorded with that was a lot of fun. The cool thing for me and my friends is I kept most of the recordings.

1988: I started getting in to computers.Which led into my next rabbit hole.  Making music on my Amiga with tracker software. I started playing again and would record small loops to put together into songs for backing tracks and then play guitar over the tracks and record on the the 4-track.

1994:  Started teaching and was right next to the lab of Macintosh computers at the school

Bought my first Macintosh computers around 1998 and got Pro-tools free to start recording with.

Which led to the next rabbit hole:

Home recording on computer and mixing and mastering software. First started with garageband and Digital guitar amps in aobut 2003 when Amplitube Uno was given away free in a Music magazine. That led to recording in Garageband and the rabbit hole getting deeper.

Then reading about recording studios having compressors, channel strips and consoles that were being emulated with software I went down a new rabbit hole.

T-Racks mixing and master plug-ins.   Started trying to improve the sound of the old recordings. It is amazing what software can do.   Bias Peak was an amazing sound file editor and many years later moved on to Audition when Bias was no longer supported.

Then found out about noise reduction software called soundsoap and was able to remove some of the hiss from the old cassette tapes without losing the "lack" of quality! 😉 Izotope RX came next and then other Izotope softwares. Then digital drum sets and synths and finally more than I can ever use.

But the software keeps getting better. Now Izotope RX 8 can rebalance pre-recorded music.  I can bring up or down drums, bass or vocals in a full band recording. It isn't perfect but it is much better.

What I learned?

One:  Recording music is fun as hell and it is easier than ever these days.

Two:  That still doesn't mean it will sound good.

Three:  If it sounds good to you and to the people you want to hear it, then that is all that matters.

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Forgot to add this really important thing I’ve learned. Louder sounds better while listening but doesn’t always sound better while recording and mixing.

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On 1/2/2021 at 5:17 PM, polara said:

I've slowly upgraded our computer interface from a Scarlett to an Audient, 

I've never really wanted to record, although I do own a Tascam 8-track cassette recorder from decades ago that I fiddled around with back in the 90s. It got very little use, though.

Now, with all the free time I've got on my hands, I've been researching and looking around for an audio interface, so I'm interested in this statement from your original post. I've got a nice imac with garageband, so I can get started there. When I do the quick internet research an audio interface, Scarlett always comes up as a good choice, and I can find them locally. 

Would you mind expounding a little bit on your upgrade? I can do some research too, but looking at the Audient stuff, it goes from affordable to super high end.

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We are doing pre-production recordings right now at our rehersal place. We recorded our last album there. I am down there tracking guitars now. What I learned last time: no matter how much you rehearse new songs with the band, when it't time to double track with the other guitarist you hear differences in how you play that you never heard in rehersal. The small nuances that you need to get 100% right. That is why pre-production is good. Speeds up the actual recording sessions later.

 

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33 minutes ago, BruceM said:

I've never really wanted to record, although I do own a Tascam 8-track cassette recorder from decades ago that I fiddled around with back in the 90s. It got very little use, though.

Now, with all the free time I've got on my hands, I've been researching and looking around for an audio interface, so I'm interested in this statement from your original post. I've got a nice imac with garageband, so I can get started there. When I do the quick internet research an audio interface, Scarlett always comes up as a good choice, and I can find them locally. 

Would you mind expounding a little bit on your upgrade? I can do some research too, but looking at the Audient stuff, it goes from affordable to super high end.

I found (and this may just be confirmation bias) that the sound of vocals when using the Audient iD4 was more clear and balanced that with the Scarlett. Not night and day, but I didn't have to do much EQing of the vocals when using the Audient. There's a bit more flexibility with being able to do a bass roll-off or pad down the level with a hardware switch. The BIG change though, is the dedicated 1/4" instrument inputs on the Audient. The preamp on those made a big difference when recording guitar or bass direct. I'm not savvy enough to know why, but it immediately sounded more like an amp.

I waited to get mine used, the 4-channel one, for about $500. Not crazy cheap, but we wanted to up our recording game a bit at a time.

Still, the Scarlett is totally fine: it's like the difference between an Epiphone and Gibson. It's the ears and the skills, not the gear. I just happened to get a good deal on the Audient at the same time a friend wanted to dip her toes into recording so it worked out.

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4 minutes ago, polara said:

I found (and this may just be confirmation bias) that the sound of vocals when using the Audient iD4 was more clear and balanced that with the Scarlett. Not night and day, but I didn't have to do much EQing of the vocals when using the Audient. There's a bit more flexibility with being able to do a bass roll-off or pad down the level with a hardware switch. The BIG change though, is the dedicated 1/4" instrument inputs on the Audient. The preamp on those made a big difference when recording guitar or bass direct. I'm not savvy enough to know why, but it immediately sounded more like an amp.

I waited to get mine used, the 4-channel one, for about $500. Not crazy cheap, but we wanted to up our recording game a bit at a time.

Still, the Scarlett is totally fine: it's like the difference between an Epiphone and Gibson. It's the ears and the skills, not the gear. I just happened to get a good deal on the Audient at the same time a friend wanted to dip her toes into recording so it worked out.

Thanks. That makes sense. For my purposes, I'll probably go with the Scarlett. I also just dug deep into my closet upstairs and pulled out the basically "as-new" Tascam 488MKII Portastudio. That might still have a little potential as a mixer. We'll see. 

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38 minutes ago, BruceM said:

I've never really wanted to record, although I do own a Tascam 8-track cassette recorder from decades ago that I fiddled around with back in the 90s. It got very little use, though.

Now, with all the free time I've got on my hands, I've been researching and looking around for an audio interface, so I'm interested in this statement from your original post. I've got a nice imac with garageband, so I can get started there. When I do the quick internet research an audio interface, Scarlett always comes up as a good choice, and I can find them locally. 

Would you mind expounding a little bit on your upgrade? I can do some research too, but looking at the Audient stuff, it goes from affordable to super high end.

I know you are asking Polara but I just replaced my Scarlett 6i6 (mine is a 2nd generation) with the IkMultimedia Axe IO and it has a lot of cool features for guitar recording.  The scarlett 6i6 is great and I still use it with my laptop but after reading some of the reviews I wanted the Axe IO.  It also comes with a great selection of Ik's software and I have to say.  The new Amplitube 5 is so much better than anything that came before that it adds so much value to this interface.  The names above are clickable.

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8 minutes ago, BruceM said:

Thanks. That makes sense. For my purposes, I'll probably go with the Scarlett. I also just dug deep into my closet upstairs and pulled out the basically "as-new" Tascam 488MKII Portastudio. That might still have a little potential as a mixer. We'll see. 

I got a great deal on the Scarlett 2i2 3rd gen from Sweetwater. They're about $150 and I guess since I haven't bought anything in a long time from Sweetwater they sent me a $50 coupon to entice me. So I got it for about $100. The third gen has some new features you can research and see demos better than me trying to get technical. That never works, lol. 

 

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On 1/4/2021 at 8:06 AM, BruceM said:

Thanks. That makes sense. For my purposes, I'll probably go with the Scarlett. I also just dug deep into my closet upstairs and pulled out the basically "as-new" Tascam 488MKII Portastudio. That might still have a little potential as a mixer. We'll see. 

Looks like everyone has the Scarlett 2i2 3rd gen on sale for $109.99

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