Lol sounds like it!!
I am a novice, having home recorded for the last decade, but more intensely over the last couple of years, now I have more time on my hands. My comments come from my own learnings, and might not be best practice - suggestions are most welcome. Apologies for the length of this post!
- Cakewalk (formerly Sonar) and previously used Reaper
- Band-in-a-Box for creating demo backing and providing some basic tracks to be imported into Cakewalk.
- Audio interface - Focusrite 18i8 2nd gen
- Mic - SE X1S condenser with acoustic vocal booth
- When recording, I make sure I have a good strong signal that mostly fills up the green and peaks into amber but stays away from the red. This reduces the presence of back ground ‘noise’. If your recording is too weak, when you pump it up, you are also pumping up the background noise.
- I have recently also been recording two other lead vocal tracks that mirror (double-track) the main vocal as best as I can. I turn down the volume of these till I can just hear them, and I have them panned left and right (about 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock) or harder.
- I now have a better condenser mic with an acoustic treated shell surrounding the mic 180 degrees behind it, about 30cm(1’) tall and about 15cm (6”) from the mic. This knocks out a lot of reflective noises from behind the mic.
- I usually sing 10 - 15cm (4 - 6”) from the mic. This gives a much more natural sound without boominess or plosives. I do it this way for the main, doubled, tripled and backing or harmony vocals.
- I usually record with the click track (or metronome) turned on to make sure I keep in time. I have been known to wander, tempo-wise.
- Guitars sound different with mic position pointed to the bridge, the sound hole, or the neck. Experiment to see which one your song requires. Like strumming in these regions, you get a more distinct (bridge) or mellow (neck) recorded tone.
- I will sometimes use two different acoustic guitars (or two different electrics) to get different tone. Sometimes, I will use the same guitar, but transpose to a different key and use a capo to bring it back to the original key. The different fret position and chord voicing will add some nice variation as though two different guitarists are being recorded.
- When recording lead, I will sometimes double up the lead on two separate tracks to give thickness (and overcome my poor lead style).
- I will record electric using the line out from the amp or by putting a mic out front of the speaker, depending on what I want to hear and whether using onboard amp effects or plug-in effects from Cakewalk.
- Because I am not an accomplished lead guitarist, it’s not uncommon for me to record in several takes or in shorter phrases. I have also been known to record at a slower speed then put the tempo back to original afterwards.
Recording Other instruments
- I can’t play keys or drums, so I will set up the song in Band-in-a-Box (BIAB), render to individual wav files for each track, then import into Cakewalk, which is the DAW I use. I have also used Reaper previously. I will mute the tracks I don’t want, and record my bass, guitars, lead, and all vocals as new tracks, thus replacing some of what has been imported from BIAB.
- So I start with 6 tracks and may end up with 12 or more tracks.
- Some of these tracks might only be used for sections of the song, and usually I have 3 tracks for lead vocal, and maybe another 3 for harmony or backing vocals.
- I like arranging the chorus so that it ‘pops’ differently from the verses. Not necessarily louder, but maybe busier, or with vocal harmonies, or changed or added instrumentation.
- I will use a bridge, pre-chorus, solo or instrumental motif (but not all of these) to create something new for the ear to listen to. I heard someone say, repeat something and it becomes familiar; a third time (without something new) and it becomes tired.
- A common tool I use when mixing the intro and verse 1 is to build layers - say start with acoustic guitar and vocal, then drums and bass come in after a few bars (or forge 2, say) then say piano/keys on chorus along with backing or harmony vocals.
- I will listen for different texture ideas by using less or more, by changing instruments, etc. Some songs might start with a ‘bang in your face’ intro then back off into the verse, then increase again with the chorus, while others might build layers throughout the song.
Editing and mixing
- I will trim ‘dead’ material from the start or end of an audio clip (section) to remove breathing, getting up out of a chair and other unwanted noise. Sometimes I will trim in the middle of a clip if there is a reasonable time gap between content.
- It’s not uncommon for me to re-record a small section of a track I am not happy with. I use a common feature called ‘punch in’ for this. I try and do this as I record so that record levels, mic placement etc remain the same, and so the new section punched in sounds the same as the original it replaced.
- I will sometimes copy and paste sections of a track where it appears in other parts of the song, particularly if they are difficult for me to play or sing, and I fluked an attempt and can’t reproduce it again.
- If your DAW software has it, turn on ‘snap to’ settings, particularly when copying pasting. This helps make sure the copy and paste have the same length and are pasted into the correct position. You can always ‘un-snap’ to have greater control over positioning if you need to.
- When I am mixing a solo, because this is the feature for this part of the song, I will make sure it is panned centre or near centre, with volume prominent so it stands out from the ‘band’.
- I make a lot of use of panning left or right. I try not to have two instruments with the same frequency range in the same panned zone. If I have recorded two acoustic guitars for thickness, I will pan one left and the other right. Also, I might pan acoustic left-ish and electric right-ish so they don’t conflict for space.
- Piano/keys have a large frequency range and can crowd out the bass, vocals or guitars. If not the same feature, I will try and pan them towards one side or the other and dial down the frequencies using EQ which are clashing with other things, and look for the part of the keys that add something different.
- My main vocal will be in or near the centre (as are the bass and drums because they don’t conflict with the vocal frequency range).
- I used to EQ my vocals to lessen frequencies that ‘muddy’ them, but not always with success.
- I sometimes apply reverb or delay to vocals, but for some songs, ‘naked’ is better.
- For the backing or harmony vocals, I mix them away from centre (as though backing vocalists are standing left and/or right of the main singer) and lower volume in the mix, so you can hear them shine through but not dominate the main vocal.
- Empasizing the lower frequencies makes the vocal sound closer and intimate, while focussing on higher frequencies (or reducing lower ones) makes it sound more from the back/distant.
- If I think a recorded track is uneven in volume, I will use compression to make the volume range narrower. If quite a range, I may lower the volume of the relevant sections of the track (in Cakewalk called Automation Lanes).
- Beware ear fatigue when mixing. I go away from the mix for hours or a day or so to ‘freshen’ my ears.
- Listen to the mix in different settings - your monitor speakers; your headphones; the car speakers - do they sound consistent or not wildly divergent? Ear fatigue can cause you to miss something e.g. a dominating bass.
I hope this is useful. I’d also welcome comments from those more experienced than me that can make suggestions to improve.
I recently found this course Production Basics with Adam G that I didn’t know existed. I haven’t viewed it yet but there must be wonderful insights in it. The 12 lesson length of the course and length of each lesson suggests some real depth.