Archive for the Recording Basics Category

As Close To A Magic Bullet As You Can Get

Posted in How To's, Making Music, Recording Basics, Recording with Reaper with tags , , on September 29, 2013 by The Buddha Rats

Advice comes and goes, but this trick is the one thing that has brought me back around from being 100% frustrated with mixing at home: High-pass almost everything in your mix.

That’s it. It’s really that simple. Embrace the high-pass filter, and your mixes will thank you for it. A high-pass filter is simply a filter that rolls off low frequencies. It cuts out the mud. And if you are like me, then the biggest  problem you face with your mixes is probably that they are just too muddy.

Granted your individual tracks may sound great, and you may not think there is too much bass, but when you start combining it all together, you end up with mix that gives you an instant headache, due to all the low-mid build-up. Chances are you’re also adding too much top end too.

I used to pour the compression and EQ on every track trying to get things to sound thick and full. Turns out all I was doing was increasing the noise, and the mud. Some tunes sounded good that way, but most didn’t. It was really only a little over a year ago that I all but stopped using EQ on everything but the master bus.

The one plug in that has saved my music has been Satson by Sonimus. I mean it: This simple and relatively inexpensive plug in is a sleeper hit! I’ve got other “console” plugs, but none are as effective. Satson is meant to go on everything. Essentially it gives you a  high-pass (and low-pass filter) with a gain control. I use the the high-pass on everything except for drums and bass, which I tweak using the gain control. I’ve been told by others that my recent mixes sound much clearer and natural.

In the end, it’s no magic bullet, but it’s close. Try it, you’ve got nothing to lose.



When to add compression?

Posted in Recording Basics with tags , , on May 14, 2011 by The Buddha Rats

It’s often abused (I’ve done it myself), but compression is an important part of the link to getting a nice sound.

Add compression (and EQ) at mixing. Each track you’ve recorded might get a little to help shape, gel and tame the sound. I even like to add more compression as “glue” and consistency on the master bus.

Remember that certain genres get more compression than others:  You don’t mix a Beatles track like a Bobby Timmons track.

Try and resist the urge to make everything LOUD. You can get a nice full mix without pushing every track up to that 0db line. Your master track should be at 0db, but pull the other track faders back to around -6 or -9 and give yourself some headroom. You won’t get ear fatigue as fast, and you’ll make more accurate mixing choices. Besides, you can make a sound seem louder just by making it brighter with some eq. Take some high’s away, and it sinks back into the mix… Remember that the end result of the effects you add on your master bus is not the same thing as sending your track to be properly mastered! You will be very hard pressed to get your tracks the same volume as something that is offered up for commercial consumption.

In the end, it’s all about trial and error- you’ll figure out what works best for your music.

Good luck.

Tracking with Effects

Posted in Recording Basics with tags , on March 27, 2011 by The Buddha Rats

This is more or less a response to another music blog’s post about whether or not instruments should be recorded with effects enabled. I always track my instruments and vocals with effects processing enabled. Why you ask? Because I want to get a good idea how my final track is going to sound. The only time I’ve tracked raw (adding processing at a later date) is when there wasn’t enough system resources to handle the VSTi or cpu heavy effect.

Here’s why you might want to record with the effect:

  1. Tracking  with processing forces you to pick a creative direction and establish a vibe for your song early on, and that’s important. Of course it’s easier to do if you have been recording for awhile,  know your gear, and know what kind of sound you are after.
  2. You can play along with the effect. Think about how your vocal tracks change when you sing along with a slapback reverb, instead of leaving it dry. Try it- you won’t go back. And if you don’t like the effect, just record another take (or import  a copy of your raw track and try a different effect). I’ve got a lot of different versions of the same song lying around. Each version brings something different to the table and has made me a better musician.
  3. Always keeping your options open by only tracking raw sounds can leave things open-ended too long. Lets face it- if you track on a modern DAW you’ve got choices. Perhaps too many choices and that’s not necessarily a good thing. You can spend so much time trying to find that elusive “magical” plug-in (you know- the one that will turn your track into gold) that you lose momentum. My advice is to track with the effect, but always keep a copy of the raw track in case you need to change it later on.

Before you even start to record, you only need to do one thing:

  1. Do your homework, and make sure your song is well thought out with regard to structure. Have all the parts in place, such as verse, chorus, middle eight, etc.. That way you don’t end up with a hard drive full of half finished tunes. Besides, you can always change the arrangement/move things around once all the parts are tracked.

Like I mentioned earlier- don’t be afraid to make mistakes. That’s how you learn and get better. And that’s the point of it all, innit?

Happy playing.

Free Audio Plug-ins, Dynamics, Analog vs. Digital Recordings, and More

Posted in Recording Basics with tags , , , , on January 23, 2010 by The Buddha Rats

I’m so glad the weekend is here. That means more time with the Mrs., more time with our dogs, and of course more time in the studio! It’s also the perfect time to share some more tips & tricks to get your music sounding as great as it should be.


The right microphone is always a key factor in getting a good vocal sound. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend, just get yourself an SM58 from Shure. A lot of people like to record their vocal tracks dry, and I’m going to argue against that. By singing along to your tune with effects added to the vocals you get a better idea of just how it all sits together. A good vocalist will also use the effect (be it echo, chorus, etc.) to shape and enhance his or her performance.

You’re also going to want to do the following to your vocal track:

  1. Vocals should be tracked using a nice warm tube pre-amp (there’s more on warmth and analog gear below).
  2. Add compression before the EQ. Compression smooths out the sound, and by adding the EQ after you can bring some of the highs back into play.
  3. Any good plugin with decent presets will roll off and tame your lows, mids and highs. However, never settle with just a preset, unless it’s one you’ve created & tested yourself. Take the time to tailor the EQ to the voice and performance, and add a deeser if you need to.

Automatic Double Tracking is covered in this post.

Analog Gear

There’s a very good reason why all of the big and small name music hardware & software companies have jumped on the analog sim bandwagon. Analog (and vintage) gear can give your music a warm, and enhanced sound. My first home studio consisted of a Tascam Porta One, a few cheap mics from Radio Shack and a Roland TR-505 & Juno 106. I eventually traded or sold all my analog/tape-based gear to make room for my DAW, but I sacrificed real warmth and saturation for gains in stability, flexibility and ease of use. A lot of professionals might agree with that statement.

The technical limitations and imperfections of old school studios and gear set the standard of the quality of the recorded sounds that we expect to hear on our home-based recordings. For some (myself included) a digital recording can’t compare to one completed in an analog studio because you simply cannot naturally overdrive and saturate a digital recording. You will need plug-ins written specifically to replicate that sound in order to achieve that. My final results aren’t meant to be about cleanliness, or accuracy, but about trying to capture a quality or a vibe. Simply put: Grunge. Analog gear makes the audio sound more interesting because it distorts the audio in a pleasing way.

By the way, there are two plug-ins that can help your recordings sound better by simulating the warmth and saturation of analog tape. They’re good and they’re FREE:

  1. Ferox Tape Simulator is arguably the best sounding free tape sim out there. Lately I’ve been loving MAGNETIC.
  2. Cakewalk FX2 package includes controls for tape hiss, saturation, and tape speed. It also sounds great on drums.

Add Real Reverb

Place a speaker in a concrete, wood or tiled room of your home. Mic it up so you pick up the room sound. Send your instrument tracks to the speaker and record the results. That’s how they used to do it in the 1960’s for bands like The Beatles, Stones, Pink Floyd, etc..

EQ: Cut or Add

EQ is possibly more important than volume. If you want a louder drum kit, increase the treble, not the volume, to help it cut through the mix. More bass for your face? Cut the highs.


Used properly, compression creates headroom by balancing out the dynamic levels between loud and soft spots in your audio, making them less extreme.  Compression can make your sound and mixes more coherent and consistent sounding.

MODERN MUSIC IS COMPRESSED AND MIXED SO THAT EVERYTHING IS VERY LOUD, WHICH  IS AS ONE-DIMENSIONAL (AND ANNOYING) AS ALWAYS TYPING IN BOLD CAPS. Depending on the song and the type of music you write, include both loud and soft. You get the picture?

Mono or Stereo Mixing?

I’ve read this in almost every music forum: Mix in mono first, then switch to stereo when you’ve got something decent. Mixing in mono forces you to think about EQ over track volume, and it’s a very hard process to get right. Also, avoid those marathon mixing sessions and take breaks. Nothing helps a mix like well-rested ears.


Play those faders. As you begin mixing your music, keep moving the faders up and down slightly. You bring a little extra motion to your mix through this (subtle) manipulation of levels. Modern  software,  can automate these subtle changes for you:  Draw points on the volume or FX channel, and then raise and lower certain portions of the track to simulate the fader play.

Your Final Mix is Not a Master

Embrace the fact that only a pro mastering engineer can work magic. Read that again, please. Mastering software like Ozone is fine, but it takes years to learn how to use it properly.

Now go make some music…

Recording Tips and Tricks Pt. 1

Posted in Recording Basics with tags , on January 1, 2010 by The Buddha Rats

These are 3 important tips that will help your recordings turn out great. Yes, they are really basic, but important, and sometimes in the heat of a creative moment we tend to forget about the obvious:

1. Consider the source: Make sure that what you hear in your headphones sounds as good as it can be. You want a strong, clean signal to capture. Make sure your guitar, or bass is in tune (don’t laugh: I worked with a guitarist who wouldn’t tune up unless I reminded him). Don’t put on a new set of strings before you lay down tracks. Strings need time to stretch a bit before they settle in and stay in tune.
2. Computers will crash: Save your work often. In fact, be sure and save your work every time you finish adding a plug-in, make a splice, adjust a level, pan, etc.. You can always hit undo, but if your computer crashes and you haven’t saved, you’ll be kicking yourself in the butt.
3. Keep it all very simple: Just because your software can handle “unlimited tracks” doesn’t mean you should take advantage of it. Most songs don’t require 45 guitar layers, and 20 vocal overdubs going at the same time. Give your song and the tracks you record room to breathe. Your ears (and your listeners’ ears) will thank you.

Thanks for checking out my blog. More tips to come.

Removing slide noises from acoustic guitar tracks

Posted in Guitars, Recording Basics with tags , on December 19, 2009 by The Buddha Rats

Now why on earth would you want to do that?…

Personally, I enjoy listening to a guitar that sounds as if it’s been recorded by a real person. String noise is just part of the deal. You can de-emphasize it a bit with eq, etc., but you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to create a guitar part that doesn’t contain some bit of noise.

You could try flatwound strings. They have a more mellow sound, and you don’t hear the “finger squeek” sound like on roundwound strings. I use them for my electric bass, and a lot of people (mostly Jazz players) use them on their gits. They also last longer because they don’t tarnish/rust as fast.

A Nice, Warm Mix

Posted in How To's, Recording Basics with tags , , , on December 19, 2009 by The Buddha Rats

This post includes some simple “do’s” and “don’ts” that will help you get your tracks and overall mixes sounding good. Remember, that it’s important to pay attention to how you EQ  and mix before you send your final tracks for mastering. Even a good mastering engineer can’t save a poorly eq’d/mixed track!

First off, my advice would be to take a look at how you are using reverb. Too much applied to your mix will just make everything sound muddy. And a low quality reverb will impart articles to your high end, making it crackle and sound tinny.

Regarding the use of synthesized sounds: Adding a decent analog, or “vintage” warmer plug (I use PSP Vintage Warmer, and more recently Nomad Factory’s MAGNETIC) to your individual synth tracks will de-sanitize them and round out the edges nicely.

Then look at your master fx chain, and take a look at the FX applied to your whole mix:
1. REVERB: Some people feel comfortable applying reverb to the whole (final) mix, some steer clear of doing that. It’s a personal choice. I will say that the quality of the reverb you use will go a long way in making your tracks sound good. I use 2c Audio’s Breeze.

2. COMPRESSION: Using something like PSP’s Vintage Warmer will go a long way to impart some overall warmth to your tune, and can help balance out your lows, mids and highs. Old Timer is fantastic too, as well as MPX from Waves.

3. MASTERING EQ: Check out Ozone. It’s really good. So good that it might be the only thing you need to get “that” sound without the use of any other compression or eq plug-in. I personally steer clear from the “all-in-one” mix solutions.

4. SONIC ENHANCERS: Plugs like BBE Sonic Maximizer can do wonders for a mix, but it needs to be applied sparingly or your mix will sound awful- thin, and really harsh.

5. BRICKWALL LIMITERS: Use one, and resist the temptation to get your final mix too loud, or hot. Always give yourself plenty of headroom on your master track volume. A loud/hot (and overly compressed) mix will make your songs sound like garbage, and wear out the listeners ear drums by taking away all of the dynamics you worked hard to capture in your recording.

Happy recording.