Saturday, October 14, 2017


by Mark King for

Signal processing and plug-ins are seductive but they can cover up and distract you from a weak musical performance. 

If you're new to recording, spend more time recording the best performance you can. Don't just accept the first or second try and then start piling on the processing to try and fix it. 

When harmonizing or doubling a vocal part listen carefully to how original parts start and stop and try to get the new part to match the original as close as possible. I often spend half a day doubling a simple guitar part because I want to get the two as close to each other as possible.

Spend serious time experimenting with your microphone. Sing close to it, sing farther back, listen to how the closeness of the microphone to your mouth affects the final recorded tone. As you move back from the mic less proximity effect reduces bass, it increases as you get closer to the mic. You can use this as an acoustic tone control on what you're recording (no plugin, exciter or EQ required). If your voice does not sound bright enough back away from the mic, that will reduce the bass which can cloud the lower frequencies.

Get accustomed to listening to your recorded tracks without processing. Reverb and echo can cloud or cover up the more subtle aspects of any recording. 

Recording takes practice, making great recordings takes a lot of practice. The more you record the better you'll get. It may sound bad for quite a while but eventually if you are using and training your ears to listen you'll hear improvements. 

Training your ears takes time and focus but listening is a critical skill any musical artist needs to work on. While listening to music work on picking out the individual instruments you're hearing. Learn to focus on each one individually. Can you hear the kick drum in the whole performance? Can you pick out the bass guitar? What is the bass tone? Bright or dark? Clear or fuzzy? Distinct or muddy? Can you list all the instruments in the song you're listening to? Learning to listen objectively takes a lot of practice but at least you're listening to music.

I love microphones but along the way I learned an important lesson about them, I sound like me on whatever mic I use. Yes some mic's make me sound better than others but no microphone is going to turn me into Frank Sinatra. Learn to like your own voice because a different microphone is not going to fix or change it very much. Taking some vocal lessons would be a much better use for your hard earned cash than investing in a $4000 microphone, trust me, I've done both!

On the other hand, sometimes you find a microphone that compliments a particular voice so well, you'd never think of using anything else (unless something else even more amazing came along). High price or big brand name is not required to have this dovetailed artist and microphone performance-relationship. 

Lots of new recordists tell me they hate the sound of their microphone. I say deal with it (unless you're trying to use some antique cheapie microphone from Radio Shack in which case you probably do need a better microphone). Experiment more is my recommendation, listen to the mic from the front, sides and rear, up close and farther away, can you hear the room sound? Record different sounds with it and evaluate how it captured them.

If it really is time to get a new or different microphone use your ears and your brain more than your eyes. Don't go by what looks cool and cheap at some big box store. Spend some time on the Recording Hacks Website, this is one of the largest databases in the world for microphones. It's a funny name for a web site but you can seriously learn a lot about microphones there. Matt the originator of Recording Hacks is also the mad scientist and genius behind and Roswell Pro Audio, both producers of great microphone products. 

Learn to record dry tracks without effects, get accustomed to listening to them. 

As an artist figure out how to perform better and you'll make better recordings. 

Don't get discouraged, keep working at it, practice practice practice!

Good music to all!