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5 DIY audio kits to improve your recording

5 DIY audio kits to improve your recording

  The birth of DIY Audio   DIY audio has been around for a long time. The earliest recording studios didn’t have the possibilities we have today. If a studio engineer wanted a piece of gear for a specific function they had to build it. They couldn’t just nip out to Studiospares! Names such as EMI, Decca and Trident are synonymous with music labels. Yet they also built their own mixing consoles and the circuits they developed are still used to this day. In the 1990s, technology such as the ADAT and hard-disk recorder meant that the home studio finally became a reality. Before then, the only real possibility to get into a studio was to already have a record deal in place. Even then though, certain pieces of studio equipment were out of the budget of most small studios. Pieces like the Fairchild compressor, Pultec equaliser, Neve 1073 preamp, and Neumann U47.   Home-studio DIY Audio Kits   We are now in a golden age of affordable music technology. Today there are many great DIY options available to the home recordist. Many classic pieces of recording gear are now available; either in kit form or within a small budget. Warm Audio, Stam Audio and Klark Technik amongst others, now sell affordable clones of many pieces of gear. The Urei 1176, API 312, Pultec EQ and LA-2A are the most-often cloned pieces of hardware, yet it doesn’t stop there. You can also pick up cheaper versions of U87, U47, U67, and C12-style microphones. I have built many pieces of studio gear in search of the tones I heard on...
My top 5 microphones for the recording studio

My top 5 microphones for the recording studio

  My Top 5 Microphones   There are more microphone choices available to recording engineers than ever. Never have we had so much choice – and indeed the quality keeps getting better and better. There was a time when studios had to fork out thousands for mics from a handful of manufacturers such as Neumann. In the 1960s microphones such as the Neumann U47 were the pinnacle of the technology available but in reality, cost the same as a family car!   The modern recordist   Now though there are mics available to suit every budget and more types than you can shake a stick at besides. Ribbon mics are at an all-time popularity high point – due on the whole to the perceived coldness of digital systems. Many of us search for warmer tones that tape, transformers and tubes impart. For the same reason, this phenomenon is similar for ribbon mics that have a smoother subjective tone.   Choices, Choices   In light of all the choices nowadays, it would be easy to use a different microphone every session. That would be rather impractical though and in any event, would require deep pockets! There are a handful of different mics that I have learnt to rely on for a variety of sources and I will discuss them here. I have picked 5 of my favourite mics that I wouldn’t want to ever be without. Here goes…   1. Coles 4038   This has to be my favourite microphone ever and I wish someone had told me about them earlier in my career. I could have saved thousands on...
Recording a band in the studio – part 3

Recording a band in the studio – part 3

  Recording a band – part 3   In the previous two blog posts, I have talked about what I do when recording a band in the studio. My first post concentrated on technicalities before the band arrives. The second post looked at things to consider during the actual session. With this in mind, I’m going to take a look at finishing and printing the mix. What I’m not going to do is talk in depth about mixing. I want to talk about workflow, not to mention there are so many articles online that already cover the art of mixing in detail. Instead, I am going to take a look at productivity and my thought process – and more importantly some pitfalls to try to avoid.   A working template   I have already talked in the previous posts about my Pro Tools session template. This works as my recording as well as my mixing template. I would like to stress however, that this doesn’t mean I treat every session the same. Instead, the template has different tonal options set up in order to aid in quickly getting a sound for the record. Even though I rely on a template, what I never use is compression and EQ presets. Rather, the template has routing pathways setup for parallel compression and effects. I try to get most of the heavy lifting taken care of while recording – by using mic positioning and EQ for instance. By and large, anything else should be broad strokes or surgical in nature. If I have to alter the actual sound of something when mixing...
Recording a band in the studio – Part 2

Recording a band in the studio – Part 2

Recording a band – part 2   I continue to look at recording a band in the recording studio. Last week I looked at setting up a tracking session to record a full band together. This week I’m going to continue by looking at what happens during the session. I will also cover some of the creative choices I make.   Microphone choices…   Microphone choice should usually wait until you’ve heard the source. That way you can decide on which mic will compliment the instrument and best suit it in the mix. After all, there is no need to use a super-bright condenser mic on a shaker part that you want buried in the mix. Having said that there are a handful of microphones that I find myself using time and time again. It’s useful to have some go-to mic choices – especially if you need to work fast. Most of the sessions I’m involved in are one or two-day affairs. In this case, I haven’t got all day to audition mic choices as I’m on the client’s time so often have to rely upon experience. The majority of the mics I use when recording bands are dynamic and ribbon mics. In fact, I have had whole sessions where I haven’t used anything else. Now that’s not to say I don’t like condenser mics – far from it but I do find dynamic and ribbons suit my room and tastes.   Drums   For me, a drum sound starts with the overheads and there is no better mic for this role than the Coles 4038. They are ribbon...
Recording a band in the studio – Part 1

Recording a band in the studio – Part 1

I want to share my technique for recording a band in the recording studio. This will be a 3-part series starting with setup and things to do first to make sure that the session stays on track. I will then talk about the actual running of the session before concluding the series with the mix. If you haven’t already then take a look at the studio FAQ page. This has lots of valuable information on preparation you can do ahead of any session. Proper maintenance and care of your instrument is so important when trying to get a good tone. The time spent getting the sound right at the source pays dividends when you come to mix. Some of the best records I’ve produced  involved great musicians using good gear. These were also projects that needed less processing and seemed to mix themselves… Using a recording template I use Pro Tools HD in the studio. I also rely on pre-prepared recording and mixing templates. That’s not to say I rely on similar processing for every song though. I use a  template that already has tracks setup to cover most bases. This creates a quick workflow and a repeatable method for recording. In my template I already have tracks setup for Drums, Bass, Guitars, Keys, Percussion and Vocals. I always use the same colour for tracks as well which helps me navigate around larger sessions. Red is for drums, blue for bass and green for guitars. I then use orange for keys, programming and anything that is orchestral and purple for vocals. VCAs are a huge help when working in...
My Favourite Plugin EQs & Compressors

My Favourite Plugin EQs & Compressors

There are many (perhaps too many) EQ and compressor plugins on the market. How are you supposed to know which one should you use, and why? There is a valid argument that states that most EQ plugins are essentially the same. Mathematically you should be able to approximate the function of any EQ plugin using a stock EQ in your DAW. The reason, however, for different types is that they get to the desired result quicker and in a predictable manner. Do you want some mid-range punch on bass guitar?  Use an API 550a Need some airy high-end shine? Use a Pultec EQP-1A Are you after smooth gain-reduction for vocals? Use an LA-2A or CL-1B I often get asked why I use a certain EQ or Dynamics processor for certain tasks. So here is a list of some of my current favourites and the reasons why I like to reach for them.   Compressors: Waves API 2500 – Drum bus compressor par excellence! Watch the input as it might get too squishy too quickly so maybe a gain plugin before helps – instant drum smasher. CLA-76 (blue) – great for bass, snare, kick and vox. VERY quick attack and controls work backwards so 1=slow, 7=quick. Try all ratio buttons in for room mics. Threshold increases as the ratio does so you compensate with more input and less output. CLA-2A – Very smooth vocal compression with some added valve tubbiness. Good on bass too. Set the amount of peak reduction required and then make up the gain – easy! CLA-3A – One of my favourites. Cleaner version of the LA-2A. Great on guitars, vox etc....