Lesson about Recording for the Complete Novice: Tracking

Aloha, Chris here with The Kilt Lifters back again with another lesson on Recording for the Complete Novice.  This is going to be a long one, so grab a tasty beverage of your choosing and buckle up!

So, you have your shiny new interface and your mic.  You’ve spent a few minutes figuring out how to install your DAW and you’re finally ready to start tracking.  Now, at this point, it’s quite easy to just hit record and go. However, we’re going to cover the basics of getting a decent recording out of the gate so you don’t have to struggle in frustration for months trying to figure it out.  So, let’s dive in!

Before you lay down that bitchin solo, you’re going to want to make sure that you have your interface configured for low latency recording.  Latency is the amount of time it takes the notes of your bitchin solo to be converted to a digital signal, processed by your computer, and returned back to your headphones.  The short explanation is that the larger your samples, the longer it takes to process. So, you want to have a short enough sample rate to keep your latency low.  You can see in the image below that I’m recording at a perfectly acceptable 5.26 milliseconds of latency.

Latency Settings

Next, you’re going to need to do is decide what you’re going to record (I know, right?) and make sure you really know the piece. We’re going to touch back on this a few different times.  Really, it’s important that you know the piece well. At the end of the day, your recording will only be as good as your performance.  

There are many different approaches to recording.  What I’m going to cover here is my own approach for my weekly track.  I always start with a scratch, or guide track.

The first thing you are going to want to do is decide what your instrumentation is going to be.  For me, it usually looks something like this: Percussion, Acoustic guitar, Vox, Bass, Lead instrument.  When I record the initial scratch track, it’s usually drums, acoustic guitar, and vox.

You also need to decide what your audio source is going to be for each element of your scratch track.  I generally use three inputs: Direct ins for the guitar and drum machine, condenser mic for the vocals.  Since this is a scratch track, I will generally only keep the drums for the final mix.

Now that we know what we’re recording, it’s time to create the new project in our DAW.  I’ll create the project and enter the appropriate time signature and tempo. The time signature and tempo are important.  I’ll create three tracks in the DAW and assign each one to the appropriate input. Now, the next thing to do is to configure the metronome in your DAW.  For my initial tracking, I generally configure the metronome for 2 bars of precount, click in precount only. If you aren’t using a percussion track, you’ll want the click going through the track to keep you in time.  It’s important to understand the difference between precount and preroll. Precount will give you as many bars of click as you configure prior to the start of the recording. Preroll only works in the middle of the song, and it will play as many bars of your song as you specifiy prior to recording.  If you have your marker set at bar 48, preroll will play bars 46 & 47, and recording will begin at bar 48. This only works if you have properly entered the time signature and tempo. Remember when I said that was important? When you record your initial tracks, you need to be sure you know where your instrumental bridges and such go so you can leave the appropriate space for them.  I did say you really need to know the piece you are recording…

The next thing you’re going to need to do is get your gain set properly.  For each instrument, you want the peak, or absolute loudest to hit about -12dbfs on the meter.  We’re in the digital realm, which oddly is measured differently than analog. -12dbfs is equal to 0db in the analog world, which is also referred to as unity.  Once you’ve set your gain, record your scratch track!

When the scratch track is done, it’s time for overdubs.  Yay! This is where you really want your best performance, and your best capture.  With that in mind, let’s talk a little about mic placement. Mic placement is a bit of voodoo science.  There are a few industry standard techniques that I’ll talk about and work for me, but there is no absolute rule of law here.  So, I’ll outline a few basic methods for you to experiment with. When recording an amplifier, like a bass cab or a guitar amp, I really love my ES57 mics.  There are two very common placements for this, both of which I use. One is to place the mic directly in front of a speaker, centered on the cone and pointed directly at it.  The other very common method is to place the mic in the same spot, but angle it 45 degrees. Some people prefer to record electric guitars completely dry to a line in and do what’s called ‘re-amping’.  That means that all of the effects, drive, etc are added in post production. I personally don’t prefer this method, as I like to record what I hear in the room. Re-amping does give a bit more flexibility in regards to shaping the guitar sound to the overall mix.  For acoustic guitars, I tend to use a single large diaphragm condenser mic pointed at around the 12th fret, then I double track the guitar. I do this for two reasons: One, my small diaphragm condensers kinda suck and have a very high noise floor. Two, I’m lazy and I always have a decent enough LDC on the stand and ready to go.  Another way to get an absolutely killer acoustic recording is by using a pair of small diaphragm condenser mics in X/Y stereo. The way to do this is by using a dual mount mic clip, with the mics pointed at 90 degrees to one another. The capsules should be side by side. One mic will be pointed at around the 11th fret, the other at the sound hole.

Small Diaphragm Condenser mics in X/Y stereo

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