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Me and my 424
April 3, 2006 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Tweak's Guide to Home Recording. A comprehensive home recording guide that will take you all the way from buying an audio interface to choosing a mic preamp to learning the subtle arts of compression and EQing. A good refresher course even for those with recording experience. And for those more interested in composition than recording, Tweak's piece on Inspiration is insightful as well.
posted by ludwig_van (32 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Aweome, thanks for this.
posted by empath at 9:47 AM on April 3, 2006


Looks interesting. Thanks.
posted by sveskemus at 9:49 AM on April 3, 2006


Oh, this is nice.
I'm heavily studying sound/recording in school right now, and religiously read Tape-Op, but it's nice to have something that explains the basic concepts. Because even though I use things like compression and EQ on a near-daily basis, I feel like I'm still experimenting and I dont really get it. So this is great!
posted by ruby.aftermath at 10:00 AM on April 3, 2006


These are excellent explanations of basic audio concepts. It wasn't until I read Tweak's EQ tutorial that I actually felt like I understood. There's still a lot of experimentation and figuring what it is exactly your ear likes, but it helps a lot to know that EQ is used to cut and carve away at certain frequencies and should not (usually) be used to boost them. Basic concept, I know, but it took me many months because I took it for granted that I knew what I was trying to accomplish with EQ - boost them low frequencies on the bass, yeah!

Now if I could just get compression to click...
posted by BoatMeme at 10:19 AM on April 3, 2006


good to see that fidgety little kid on south park is keeping himself busy.
posted by crunchland at 10:23 AM on April 3, 2006


Gah, compression makes my brain hurt.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:25 AM on April 3, 2006


Hey, cool. This might be the first time I've known about a site that appeared on the blue for a long time before it appeared on the blue!

I landed there when I was looking at buying a set of monitors for my hobby studio. I still haven't made a purchase, but the advice on the site was great and gave me a lot to think about before I rushed out to buy.

Last I looked though, some of his reviews were a bit out of date. Particularly his review of Reason (which is now on v.3) and Live (which is now on v.5)
posted by C.Batt at 10:31 AM on April 3, 2006


Compression isn't all that difficult. The threshold is the level where the compressor kicks in; the ratio is how much it compresses.

So, to make a very simple example, if you've got a track where the level is generally around -10 but there's a spike in the middle that goes up to -1, you might want to set the threshold at -9 and the ratio at 5:1 or something. That will significantly squash down the big spike and ignore the rest, giving you a less peaky waveform. Then you can boost the whole thing up and you've got a uniformly loud track.

Multiband compressors allow you to apply this process to specific frequency bands, so you could compress only the deep bass, for example.

Of course, you can follow the link for more.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:39 AM on April 3, 2006


No, no. I know how compression works. I just don't grok it, y'know?

I probably need better speakers.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:14 AM on April 3, 2006


Indeed. I think what helps the most is viewing the waveform before and after compression with various settings. That, or having a compressor with a good, real-time visual representation of what it's doing.

I can't imagine what it was like to produce recordings when there was no waveform to look at.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:27 AM on April 3, 2006


This is bitchin, ludwig_van, thanks! I've built a nice little studio in my apartment with a Mac, Reason and Digital Performer, and this will help a great deal with getting my sounds clean and professional.

I spent a ton of time in pro (tape) studios back in the 80s and early 90s and learned a lot there from some great engineers, but there's always more to pick up...
posted by zoogleplex at 11:37 AM on April 3, 2006


Oh PS... I still have my 464 MkII and R8 MkII.

Sentimental value, really.

What do y'all have in your studios? Any good tips or gear gushes?
posted by zoogleplex at 11:39 AM on April 3, 2006


Wow. Add my hearty thank you to the list. I've been trying for years to figure out how the hell to get my synth connected to my computer correctly for what I want to do, but most every book and website I've looked at quickly gets so bogged down in technical jargon that I get confused. After the "MIDI Basics" page alone here, I feel like I finally understand what I'm looking for.
posted by dnash at 11:43 AM on April 3, 2006


> I can't imagine what it was like to produce recordings when there was no
> waveform to look at.

Not unlike doing aerodynamics in the early days, which made Wilbur (or was it Orville) Wright cry out "If only we could see the splash"!

posted by jfuller at 11:51 AM on April 3, 2006


I can't imagine what it was like to produce recordings when there was no waveform to look at.

Yeah, it was pretty tough. We had to use our ears.
posted by TiredStarling at 11:58 AM on April 3, 2006


You needed a really, really good ear, and the number of recording engineers with really, really good ears was very small. Of course they could all demand a great deal of money for their talents, and most of them wound up being the top mixing engineers.

There were visually-based "spectrum analyzers," the first ones I saw were mid-1980s and were very expensive of course! And now there's been one in WinAmp since day one... I used to use it to check mixdowns I made from tape recordings down to .wav or .aiff files. Even that simple WinAmp freq monitor helped me tweak final EQ and solve sound problems.
posted by zoogleplex at 12:01 PM on April 3, 2006


Not to dampen the enthusiasm or anything but...

This is an excellent beginner's guide which covers alot of ground, but some of his intro text is misleading and overly optimistic. You can get near-professional quality from a home studio if you're working in primarily electronic genres like dance and hip-hop, provided that you've got high quality AD/DA's and a good monitoring system. But if you're recording vocals, live guitars or other instruments, tracking in a pro studio with good acoustics and a knowledgable engineer will easily outshine a home setup. You can certainly achive "decent" "ok" results at home, but his claims that you can rival a pro studio guitar sound with Line 6 and Beringher gear in your bedroom or whatever are bullshit.
posted by Spacelegoman at 12:25 PM on April 3, 2006


Compression to me is the hardest thing about mixing.

I get it, I know what it does, but I'll be damned if I can figure out anykind of systematic way of applying it. I always end up just slapping it on and trying more-or-less random settings until the kick sounds punchy enough.
posted by empath at 12:26 PM on April 3, 2006


This is a cool site; thans, ludwig_van!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:31 PM on April 3, 2006


Spacelegoman: That's why I kept all my guitar rack gear and my Mesa Dual Rectifier, and bought a nice GT mic. My neighbors probably won't be happy when I'm recording solos. *evil grin*

Even so, it also depends on the tones you're trying to get. Clean electric guitars can be recorded spectacularly - I do clean electric straight into the board, sometimes with my girlfriend's Variax, sometimes with normal guitars.

If you're trying to get the sound of two blazing 5150's with a stereo chorus in between them and an accurate wood-walled room slapback, you're not gonna get it with a Line 6 box. :)

Then again, some music just lends itself to having the hell compressed out of it, so everyone's mileage may vary. I remember reading that when Kerry Livgren recorded his guitars on at least one Kansas album, he used some kind of low-wattage rig run through a 9" car audio speaker for all his lead tones, and they sound pretty good - though they're totally squashed by the signal path (rather than a compression effect. You can get some bitchin tones in strange and surprising ways.

I think most people who are doing this sort of studio in their home are doing mostly electronic stuff anyway - I'm probably a fairly rare exception with all my guitars.
posted by zoogleplex at 12:42 PM on April 3, 2006


Compression to me is the hardest thing about mixing.

I get it, I know what it does, but I'll be damned if I can figure out anykind of systematic way of applying it.


That's 'cos there is no system! Every sound has its own unique qualities, and a compression setting that works on one kick drum may sound awful on another - even if it's the same kick drum in a different song, or the same kick drum in the same song if you change the key of the song, or the same kick drum in the same song if you change the sound of the bass.

You need to decide whether you're employing "creative" compression or "remedial" compression or "bad modern" compression.

Creative compression gave the Beatles their mid-period drum sound ("Taxman" is the classic).

Remedial compression is what you use if a vocal (say) has a few peaky bits that push your meters into the red.

Bad modern compression is reducing the 100dB wide dynamic range available in the digital domain down to 2 or 3 in a misguided attempt to make your track sound louder than everyone else's. (But that's another story, which I'm quite happy to tell if anyone wants to hear it).

Best way to set a compressor:

1. Set attack time to longest (the better to hear the front of the sound).
2. Set release time to shortest (the better to hear the end of the sound).
3. Get that sucker working hard by lowering threshold or increasing input (the better to hear just what the compressor is doing).
4. Shorten attack to get the amount of initial "smack" you want. (Generally, the longer the attack the "bigger" the sound, but it lets through more high-energy initial transient material).
5. Lengthen release to get the amount of smoothness you want (too short a release will result in unpleasant "pumping". (OTOH unpleasant pumping may be what you are after.))
6. Reduce the overall effect, by decreasing input or lowering threshold, until the overall effect is pleasing.

And I could add:

7. Forget about the freaking waveform.
posted by TiredStarling at 1:04 PM on April 3, 2006


should i just throw away my behringer composer and get a real stereo comp?
posted by wakko at 1:06 PM on April 3, 2006


"Remedial compression is what you use if a vocal (say) has a few peaky bits that push your meters into the red."

This is what I mostly use compression for, on vocals and bass guitar. I don't have great bass technique, so my levels go up and down a lot, and I wind up having to bring up the soft parts, though I usually don't need to squash the loud parts. The tradeoff is sometimes a bit more noise, but usually it's not bad since I put bass straight into the board and do all the tweaking after the fact.

I'm better at singing technique so my levels stay pretty consistent, so I just use a little bit of comp to tighten that up.

And sometimes I squash the living hell out of guitars just to get some weird effects!

Thanx for the compressor philosophy, TiredStarling.
posted by zoogleplex at 1:32 PM on April 3, 2006


ludwig_van, you've yet to make a post I don't like.

I'm actually seriously considering starting a collaborative recording blog; maybe you (and others reading this thread) would be interested in contributing? Email in profile.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:38 PM on April 3, 2006


Wakko - take a look at these... a big step up from the Behringer for $175 bucks.
posted by Spacelegoman at 1:39 PM on April 3, 2006


This is super timely. I'm not the greatest guitarest in the world, but while on holiday recently I picked up a guitarport to mess around with (which I'd never heard of until I saw something on askMeFi - thanks for that, albeit belatedly). I'm sure it will never make me sound like Les Paul's handcrafted twelve string at the Budokan, but I don't care. Having stuffed around with 4 tracks in the 80s, the ability to just lay down some tracks one after another in Audacity and have a full range of funky special effects just for the hell of it without pissing about with cassettes and fx boxes have reawakened my inner dial twiddler. I only really got it going last night, and the sound is a bit murky yet, but this guide looks like an excellent place to learn about some of those other twiddly knobby things on the software. So thanks LV!
posted by Sparx at 2:53 PM on April 3, 2006


Look how many home musicians there are around the 'fi! Who knew? Good post, thanks.
posted by davejay at 3:56 PM on April 3, 2006


What do y'all have in your studios?

The only hardware I have is:

Akai 3200 XL sampler
Emu MoPhatt Module

Both of which are sitting, gathering dust. These days, it's software all the way for me -- mainly:

Cubase SX
Ableton Live
Native Instruments Battery
Melohman Minimonsta
Fabfilter Twin
Korg Legacy Collection
Vintage Warmer
and the ubiquitous Oxygen 8 keyboard.

I keep struggling with the impulse to buy an MPC 2000XL, solely from hardware lust, but I know if I owned one, it would just sit in the corner gathering dust. Software is just so much faster and easier.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:11 PM on April 3, 2006


home recordists repr'zent and so forth
posted by cortex at 6:23 PM on April 3, 2006


But if you're recording vocals, live guitars or other instruments, tracking in a pro studio with good acoustics and a knowledgable engineer will easily outshine a home setup. You can certainly achive "decent" "ok" results at home, but his claims that you can rival a pro studio guitar sound with Line 6 and Beringher gear in your bedroom or whatever are bullshit.

Eh, I don't know. I mean, it all depends on the listener, I think. Sure, you might be able to tell the difference, but can a home recording sound about as good as a studio recording to the average listener? I think it can. But of course, it also depends heavily on what you're recording. I'm not really thinking rock bands here. But I can get pretty nice results with acoustic guitars and vocals on a bedroom recording. You can hear some of them on my web site. By far the most-downloaded-on-iTunes track from my EP was one that I recorded with a single mic in my basement in one night (although it's a cover, so that's probably explains its popularity).
posted by ludwig_van at 11:05 AM on April 4, 2006


It's a good point, ludwig_van. The gap between skilled bedroom recordings and a pro studio setup is very real, but it's much, much smaller for the casual end-listener than it is for recording geeks. People listen to the song, first and foremost, and if the song is good and it isn't utterly beaten back by awful fidelity, a lot of people will be completely satisfied.

At least, I tell myself that. I read TapeOp and drool over gear now and then, but I spend very, very little money on musical equipment—my interest is in the music more than in the engineering, and I'd rather do a mediocre recording of a great song than vice-versa.

(Currently eyeing a RNC. Mmm. Boxen.)
posted by cortex at 11:11 AM on April 4, 2006


cortex, stop staring at my RNC.

indeed a pretty good guide (if i'm in super-nice mode). if i'm in critical mode, TiredStarling's tips on setting up compressors are much better than tweak's; just leaving it on the fastest attack time is not a very good idea unless you love distortion (and i don't mean the good kind).

but there's lots to love, it's a great resource.
posted by touchy at 7:23 PM on April 4, 2006


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