Voice Over Blog

Home Studio Essentials - Editing in Audacity - Video 6

Home Studio Essential - Video Series. Credit and thanks to:

Vocal Flair guest contributor, Kyle Shevlin (@kyleshevlin)

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Home Studio Essentials - Quick Tip 3 - Portable Vocal Booth

For many of us, our recording space is less than ideal. Perhaps you are setup in an extra bedroom, or even a closet (trust me, I’ve seen a few of these). Regardless of where you setup, the truth is you are likely to encounter room reflections in your recording. These problematic reverberations can really muddy up, and lessen the quality of our recordings. While a fully treated room is the best option for reducing room reflections, there are some work-arounds that might suit your needs. Yes, I’m talking about a portable mic booth.

It is possible to build a portable mic booth using materials that you can find at your local hardware store and insulation store. There are a plethora of Youtube videos and tutorials on the Internet to teach you how to safely and effectively build one of these, so I won’t go into much detail regarding how to build one. Rather, I want to encourage you to pursue solutions like this one for your recording problems.

The truth is, on a philosophical level, the very nature of audio engineering is problem solving. Since the dawn of recording, producers have come up with creative solutions to solve issues in their recordings or to inspire creativity. This day, I encourage you to explore your creativity to see what ideas you might have for improving your recordings!

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Home Studio Essentials - The EQ Reveal - Video 5

Home Studio Essential - Video Series. Credit and thanks to:

Vocal Flair guest contributor, Kyle Shevlin (@kyleshevlin)

(click on the image; then click on the fifth tab from the left)





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Home Studio Essentials - The EQ Spectrum - Video 4

Home Studio Essential - Video Series. Credit and thanks to:

Vocal Flair guest contributor, Kyle Shevlin (@kyleshevlin)

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Home Studio Essentials - Quick Tip 2 - The Pop Filter

In a recent blog, I mentioned the proximity effect and how we should be wary of it while recording. Having unwanted and uneccessary bass booming in a recording is easily avoidable, but you still might find an occasional unwanted sound in the low frequencies known as a plosive.

What’s a plosive, you ask? A plosive is the sudden burst of air that is exhaled when you use a “p” or a “b” in at the start of a syllable. That puff of breath hits the microphone, causing the all too familiar “pop” in the low frequencies and can be difficult to get rid of in a mix without cutting out all the bass frequencies. This is a where a pop filter comes to the rescue.

A pop filter is a mic stand attachment that places a mesh screen between the source and the microphone. The mesh captures and dissipates the plosive air burst and keeps it from hitting the microphone diaphragm, hence no “pop” of air in your recording. Now you can speak your p’s and b’s without fear, and we all know clear enunciation is important for voice overs!

Added Bonus

An added bonus to using a pop filter is that it regulates the distance you are from the microphone. A pop filter can be placed the proper distance from a microphone and then used to keep the vocalist in place while recording. This should make your mixing much easier later on!

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Home Studio Essentials - Different Microphones - Video 3

Home Studio Essential - Video Series. Credit and thanks to:

Vocal Flair guest contributor, Kyle Shevlin (@kyleshevlin)

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Home Studio Essentials - Your Room

Whether you realise it or not, our ears are quite spectacular. Not only do we have two of them, allowing us to create a stereo image of the audio world around us, they are capable of recognizing differences in timing down to a tenth of a millisecond. They also are incredibly sensitive. Just Wikipedia “threshold of hearing” to find out. What does this tell us? It tells us that our ears hear more than just the source of a sound. It hears all the reflections that sound makes as well.

These reflections are generally known as “reverb.” Reverb is short for reverberance and, in short, is a part of almost every sound source you have ever heard. The only exception, would be if you have the fortune to experience an anechoic chamber (I hear they can be quite disturbing, actually!). Everywhere you are, the sound you hear bounces off of other surfaces, feeding our ears information that identifies the shape of the room, the texture of the room, and many other things.

Interestingly, though, our ears take most of this information passively. It hardly ever registers in your mind that a room is particularly lively or dead. That is until you record in it.

You may have noticed by now, that if you’re recording in a room without much furniture, hard wood floors, or very little hanging on the walls, your recordings likely have a lot of natural reverb and reflection in them. This is both a good and a bad thing.

This is a good thing if you’re recording something in a fantastic sounding room. Recording studios dedicate spaces to this very thing, enabling engineers to record the room ambience as well as the source signal. But for voice overs, room noise might not be your best friend.

Most of you understand that you are trying to get the tightest, cleanest sound possible into your recordings. Having good mic technique will get you part of the way there. The other part is done by treating your room.

Just as you’ve seen in countless pictures of professional studios, sound absorbing foam is your friend in your home studio. Not only will you reduce the reverb of your sound source (that is your voice), you will also reduce the natural reverb of the room. Often, without even realizing it, our recording space has low level background noise. In an untreated room, all this low volume noise bounces around the room just the same as higher level noises. It creates a cacophony of background noise that you can’t easily scrub from your recordings. Room treatment will deaden those reflective surfaces and thus deaden the natural reverberation of those low level noises, i.e. your room will be quieter giving you greater headroom between your sound source and when no sound is being recorded.

Places to Consider Treating

For voice overs, particularly you want to try and create a quiet space that you can record your voice into. Too small of a room and you might find a lot of bass build up as those long bass waves bounce around the tight space. Too big of a room, and your voice will sound thinner and drier. I realize that most of you cannot change the size of the room you are recording in. I simply state these facts so that you can make adjustments depending upon your recording space.

To figure out where to put absorbing foam, think of how sound travels. Try and figure out the natural reflections of the walls and place foam accordingly. If you know that you will generally speak into your microphone in a general direction of your room, you can place foam where the source will naturally reflect to reduce reflections bouncing back into the microphone.

It is also a good idea to put absorbing foam behind your monitors and possibly on your ceiling as well. The ceiling in most rooms tends to be flat and hard, making it considerably reflective. Placing some foam above the area you record or mix (or both) will make a big difference as to how much room reflection is heard.

Bottom Line

A good engineer needs to be in control of her room acoustics. This means treating the space that you record and mix in. Since our ears are so sensitive, it behooves us to absorb the reflections in our room to create cleaner, better sounding mixes. Before running off to buy a more expensive microphone or another piece of gear, consider treating your room. Remember, a treated room will improve all of your recordings!

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Home Studio Essentials - Recording Techniques - Video 2


Home Studio Essential - Video Series. Credit and thanks to:

Vocal Flair guest contributor, Kyle Shevlin (@kyleshevlin)

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Home Studio Essentials - Quick Tip 1 - Room Noise Trick

Here’s a quick tip for you to try today. Ever made a bunch of cuts to a vocal take cleaning it up and then thought it sounded odd as the track was silent in the missing audio? Let me help you with that.

The truth is, most recording environments, especially home studios, have some level of noise other than the sound source. This could be a natural reverb or some background noise in your recording environment. When you cut up your takes, the silence sounds odd because your ears were hearing this “noise” even if it was not very prevalent in the mix.

One trick to help your tracks sound consistent is to record a few seconds worth of “silence” in the recording environment on the day you record. Then chop it up and fill in the gaps of your track with the background noise. This way, when the original track drops out, it doesn’t sound like someone turned the mic off!

Another way to do this would be to use a side-chain compression technique known as ducking. Essentially, you would have a loop or track of the “silence” playing on one track and your take on another. Then, you would put a compressor on your silence track but have it respond to the vocal take track. Set the ratio high and the threshold low and watch as every time the audio track goes to silent, the compressor backs off the “silence” track allowing the room noise to come through.

If “ducking” is a bit confusing, we will be discussing side-chain compression in the near future. No need to fret!

Hope this quick tip helps and come back for more soon!

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Home Studios Essentials - Creating an Audio Track - Video 1

Home Studio Essential - Video Series. Credit and thanks to:

Vocal Flair guest contributor, Kyle Shevlin (@kyleshevlin)

(click on the image)

Stand by for more distilled wisdom in the continuing video series.

Enjoy (and don't forget to share widely ;)


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Home Studio Essentials - Microphone Techniques

Perhaps one of the most overlooked components of making great audio recordings is the recording technique itself. You will find countless tutorials on how to mix audio on the internet, but much fewer on how to record great audio.

There are a few reasons why this is the case. First, mixing is the “flashier,” “sexier” part of audio recording. You get to use all your “toys” (plugins) to try and make your mediocre recording sound better. You receive immediate feedback when you turn a few knobs or tryout that new technique you learned. It’s quick and responsive and that excites us, so of course we love learning about mixing. Second, and more important, mixing requires less physical effort. Unfortunately, even audio producers have a tendency to get lazy.

There is a myth that mixing will fix every problem in your recording. Let’s dispel that right now. It can’t! Mixing can’t fix room reflections, it can’t fix improper enunciation and it can only do so much to improve the EQ balance of your recording. However, taking a few extra minutes to study and utilize better recording technique will allow you to make the most of your recording.

Mic Technique

We have already discussed microphones, so I don’t need to reiterate that mics don’t lie. They “hear” exactly what you provide them. But, with a little knowledge we can be more certain that what it “hears” is desirable and pleasant to our ears as well.

Good mic technique is derived from understanding two scientific principles and how they factor into recording. The first is the proximity effect; the second is the inverse square law of sound. And don’t worry, I won’t be overly technical.

The Proximity Effect

Have you ever listened to a voice over at the movies or during a commercial and noticed how deep and bassy it sounded? Or have you ever listened to rap music live and noticed that the voice became deeper when the rapper got closer to the mic? This is the proximity effect in action. The closer a sound source gets to a directional microphone, the more bass frequencies are boosted. Don’t take my word for it. Go try it. I’ll be here when you get back.

Alright, now that you’re back let me explain why this matters. Because the proximity effect increases bass frequencies, we need to be careful with how close we are to the microphone while recording. By backing away a few more centimeters from the microphone, we drastically reduce how much bass is recorded. If you record to close to the microphone, it is often quite difficult to properly EQ and balance the low end later in the mix. A few inches further away could save you a lot of work later on.

The Inverse Square Law of Sound

Common sense tells us that the further away you are from a source, the quieter it sounds. Understanding why this happens, though, can be very beneficial for recording. Imagine the way sound travels from a source. If we could see its shape, we might describe it as a cone piercing a growing sphere, with the area where they intersect being our sound. We might also remember from our childhood education that one of the laws of thermodynamics is conservation of energy. This means that as our sound travels outward, the same amount of energy is spread out over a wider and wider area. Get it?

Now, regarding mic technique, this means that if we increase the distance between ourselves and the microphone, we decrease the energy that the microphone receives. However, depending on how far we are to begin with, a centimeter here or there can make a big difference.

If we are only a couple centimeters from the mic, moving a couple more away DOUBLES our distance to the microphone, which drastically will reduce our recording level. But, if we start say, 20-30 centimeters away from the mic and move a couple centimeters, we have only moved a fraction away and our energy at the microphone is less affected. Go ahead and give this a try, too.

Wrap Up

Learning good mic technique takes time and patience, but understanding a few principles (and how to manipulate them) will go a long way towards achieving the sounds you desire. Just remember, a little distance from the mic can go a long way towards taming the bass frequencies and reducing any volume changes that might occur due to movement.

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Home Studio Essentials - Basic Audio Editing

Recently, I shared a short screencast on how to record your first audio track in Audacity and Pro Tools. I hope that it was helpful and pointed you in the right direction as you get started doing your own recording. Today, to build on our first recordings, I am going to teach you some of the basic editing techniques you will need to learn in order to start making some great audio recordings.

Why is editing important?

Most people who start recording see all of the fancy plugins that come with their DAW and think that’s where the magic happens. They start putting a reverb unit here, an EQ there, tweak a few knobs and pretty soon your recording starts to sound... well like something else. But, you still have yet to eliminate the bad parts of your vocal takes (and almost every vocal will have some bad parts).

While having good EQ technique and learning to use a compressor properly will aid you in making great recordings, they will do nothing to eliminate or alter a bad take, a mispronounced word, a cough, sneeze or even a loud breath. Editing is how we polish our tracks before we start applying other effects. Without this polishing stage, we’ll just be making garbage sound as good as we can; and sadly, plugin treated garbage is still garbage.

Microphones Do NOT Tell Lies

One of the harshest truths about audio recording is that microphones rarely tell lies (We will discuss a few important “lies”, such as the proximity effect, in a future blog). Our ears are well adapted to ignoring background noise and other audio artifacts that take place around us, but microphones pick up and amplify every one of these noises and permanently records them into our mixes. It is our job as audio producers to hunt through and find these artifacts in our mixes and like a poor archaeologist, eradicate the evidence that it was ever there.

But, often times we need to combine tracks, takes, clips and other source material together. Editing is as much about splicing together the good stuff, as it is about eliminating the bad stuff. So, let’s discuss how to do this.

Cutting

Your most basic editing technique will be cutting. Your DAW may define this differently than another, but fundamentally, a cut splits an audio track at a given point. You can then treat each new clip independently. For example, you may cut around a cough and eliminate it from the track.

Arrange

Most DAWs will allow you to drag your audio clips along the timeline to new locations. Intuitively, we should recognize that this allows us to arrange the material in a way that may or may not be different than how we recorded it. Perhaps you are recording a podcast and your realize that one section would make more sense later. A clip here and a drag there, and you have rearranged your podcast. Simple as that.

Merge

Sometimes you will want to combine two or more clips together to treat them as one clip. Most DAWs will have a merge or combine feature that will allow you to do this. This might be particularly helpful after you have “comped” your takes and want to have only one track. What’s “comped” mean? Let me tell you.

“Comping” Your Takes

“Comping” is short for compilation and this is where we start to see the difference between the amateur and the pro audio producer. Often times, you will record the same source material multiple times. We call each one of these a “take.” It is then your job to pick and choose the parts from each one that sound the best and then compile them into one take. Perhaps in one take you said or sang the first half of a line perfectly, but flubbed the second half; but in another take you did just the opposite. Comping these takes together will allow us to create the best quality product.

These editing techniques are a great place to start. In the next blog, we will discuss a few more of these techniques in detail followed by a video displaying a few of these editing techniques in action.

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Home Studio Essentials - DAWs

In a previous blog, we briefly discussed DAWs (digital audio workstations) and their two primary functionalities: the sequencer (recording, editing, arranging) and the mixer. Today, we are going to go over a couple different DAWs and what they have to offer. 

The quality of your DAW will have a significant impact on your ability to make quality recordings, so it is well worth your time (and your wallet) to become familiar with a variety of DAWs and find out which one will best suit your needs. 

Before we go any further, it should be said that you can make quality recordings with ANY DAW. You do not need to spend a lot of money to produce good audio, but having one that has great tools for editing and mixing can make a big difference. With that in mind, let’s get in.

Audacity

Type “free DAW” into Google and you will find a plethora of blogs linking to Audacity, a free, open-source DAW available on all platforms. A simple DAW, Audacity offers multi-track recording, basic editing and mixing features, and can work with almost any audio format. It can even extract audio from video files to edit and use in your productions (that is, if you have legal permission to do so).

Functionally, Audacity doesn’t come with too many bells or whistles. It’s sort of the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) of the audio world, but it might work perfectly for you. For instance, if you primarily will use your DAW for podcasting, Audacity could be a great option. You can record multiple vocal takes and then comp them together in the sequencer. You can do some basic edits like cut, copy, paste, fade in, fade out and others. It also gives you some basic EQ and compressor functionality.

There are a few downsides to Audacity as well. Audacity is not well suited for those who would want to produce music as well since it does not offer the user the ability to operate the sequencer using beats and bars for timing. It also utilizes destructive processing on its tracks. What this means is that if you apply compression to the track, you can not make adjustments to it on the fly. In other words, you have to live with your choices, or undo them.

Pro Tools

Jumping to the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Pro Tools by Avid has been the music and audio recording standard for years and have practically become a synonym for DAW. There is good reason for this. Pro Tools is a powerhouse of a DAW and the latest and greatest version, Pro Tools 10 HD, will run you over £400. While it may be a hefty price tag, there are smaller, lighter versions of Pro Tools and frankly, you can do almost anything you would like to be able to with audio using Pro Tools.

Want to remove background noise from a track? PT has a De-Noiser. Want to reverse a clip? Do it! Want to have 768 audio tracks in a mix? You can! Though, that would be a pretty big mix. The point is, PT has all the power you could want and then some (assuming your computer is also up to the task). PT is great for anyone working with audio and comes with a series of solid, great sounding stock plugins (some of which will be featured in future blog posts). The compressors and EQs that come with PT are top-notch, so you won’t be opening your wallet up again right away to buy another set of plug-ins.

Really, the only disadvantage to Pro Tools is the entry level price. Assuming you want any version other than their LE, you will have to shell out a few coins which might be a large portion of your budget if you’re just getting started. That being said, investing in your DAW is one of the best places to put your money. Better to have a DAW capable of handling all your needs than to have a £1000 microphone and have no ability to use it!

Other DAWs

There are many other DAWs out there and its well worth taking a look at them. To name a few: GarageBand, Steinberg Cubase, Logic, Reason, Ableton Live, PreSonus Studio One, Reaper, FL Studio. The list goes on and on. You might find that one of these DAWs has a workflow you enjoy more, or has better plugins, or is in a price range better suited to your budget. Just remember, almost anything on the market these days is capable of delivering quality sound, it comes down to what bells and whistles come with each DAW and how you, the user, can best learn to use it.


That being said, let me leave you with one last piece of advice. Sample a few DAWs, but then choose one and really learn it. Read the manual. Watch tutorials. Figure out all the ins and outs of it and then you’ll find it that much easier to use other DAWs. Good luck!

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Home Studio Essentials - The Microphone


In previous posts, we discussed three must-haves for the home-studio. Today, we cover the third and final one, a microphone.

Every home-studio needs a microphone to take the sounds you are trying to capture and put them into your DAW, but which microphone you use can make a huge difference. Now, before you run out and buy a really expensive microphone, there are a number of microphone basics you need to know that will not only inform your purchase, but how you use a microphone as well.

Types of Microphones

A microphone is simply a device that converts and audio signal into an electrical signal. However, there are different ways to make this happen, each one creating a different type of microphone with its own set of characteristics. I am going to discuss the three most common types.

Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic microphones are the most popular and available microphones on the market. These microphones are very durable and can be used in a wide variety of environments, but are especially good in live environments due to their directional characteristics and ability to handle high sound pressure levels. But don’t count them out of the studio. Dynamic microphones are excellent for voice-overs, podcasts, vocalists and a number of other applications in the studio. Let me explain why.

Dynamic microphones all have a diaphragm inside of them that resonates as sound waves hit it. The diaphragm is placed inside a magnetic field and this is how the electrical signal is produced. The diaphragm on most dynamic mics tends to be pretty sturdy and thus less sensitive than other mics. This creates the following characteristics: high frequency attenuation, less responsive to transients, and less responsive to ambient noise. That might sound like a lot of negatives, but those characteristics are what make dynamic mics incredibly useful.

Dynamic mics will generally give you a warm, steady tone without a lot of room reflection or other bleed into the microphone. If you don’t have an acoustically treated space, dynamic microphones can be an excellent option for reducing ambient noise in your recordings!

Condenser Mics

Condenser mics, also known as capacitor microphones, come with thinner, and therefore much more sensitive, diaphragms than dynamic microphones. Their diaphragms also require an electric current to work and will generally require phantom power from your audio interface. Having a thinner diaphragm means that these microphones require a little more care in their use (they are easier to damage) and that the microphone is more sensitive. More sensitivity makes a condenser mic difficult to use in live scenarios but great for the studio. The sensitivity translates into a brighter sound with more clarity, picking up more nuances from the sound source. This also means that condenser mics will pick up more ambient noise and room reflections, though, and is something to be aware of when using one.

Ribbon Mics

The last common type of microphone is the ribbon mic. A ribbon mic works by placing a conductive ribbon between two strong magnets. As the ribbon moves, it fluctuates the magnetic field resulting in an electrical signal. This makes ribbon mics incredibly sensitive, great for picking up lots of detail from your sound source, however, it also makes them rather fragile. Ribbon mics, while offering interesting sonic possibilities, are likely not to be your go to microphone in the studio.

Advice

When starting off with a home studio, the best thing you can do for yourself is to buy yourself one decent microphone and get to know it very well. For those of you following this blog, you’ll likely want to start with a dynamic or condenser microphone. There are a number of quality microphones that can be bought for less than £100 that will be perfect for getting started. Once you get the hang of one type of microphone, venture on to another type and begin to learn that one. Pretty soon, you’ll have the hang of them all and understand how to use them wisely in your studio!

More coming soon .. to a screen near you.


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Home Studio Essentials - The I/O Device


In a previous post, I mentioned the need for an Input/Output device, also known as an audio interface or a recording interface. Some of you may have scoffed and said, “My computer has a headphone and a microphone jack on the side/tower. Can’t I just use that?” The answer to that question is both yes and no.

Yes, you could use that. The microphone input on your computer will receive audio allowing you to record, but have you listened to the quality of it? Think about it. When is the last time you video chatted with someone and actually enjoyed the quality of the sound? Probably never. This is primarily due to the quality of the components for that mic or line level input on your computer. So, no, you shouldn’t use these inputs. This is why you need an audio interface.

A dedicated Input/Output device solves this problem by providing a quality connection between your analog equipment, e.g. your microphones, and your digital equipment, e.g. your computer. But not all audio interfaces are made the same. So how do you choose one?

Choosing the Right Audio Interface

The audio interface is of utmost importance in the home studio. It will allow your recordings to enter your computer at pro-quality levels. It does this by boosting the signal level using pre-amps. A pre-amp takes your input signal and boosts it without adding the hiss and background noise your poorer quality computer inputs do. Let’s cover the basics of an audio interface so we can choose which one is right for you.

Audio interfaces, when you break them down, share a number of basic features: 1) They connect to your computer, 2) they connect to your analog inputs, 3) they connect to your analog outputs, and 4) they convert your analog signal to a digital one going in and reverse this on the way out. Anything that a audio interface has beyond this is icing on the cake, but let’s face it, a cake without icing is hardly a good tasting cake, so the icing matters!

Most audio interfaces today connect to your computer either by USB 2.0 or Firewire. I’ll leave the technical details of these connections to someone who knows a lot more on the subject than I do. Just do a Google search. You just need to consider how you are going to connect the device to your computer!

As for inputs and outputs, this is probably the most important consideration for you to make. Your need for inputs is determined by how many inputs you will need to record simultaneously. For many of you, getting an interface with only 1 or 2 inputs may be more than enough for you, especially if you are recording voice-overs or podcasts. For those of you who might want to venture into recording more inputs, such as a choir, a soundstage, or a drum kit, you’re going to need a lot more inputs.

How many outputs you need depends upon how you intend to use the output. For most of you, 2 outputs, a left and a right, is more than sufficient. You’ll use these outputs to feed your monitors. A headphone jack is also a great feature to have so that you can monitor your input as you record without letting the output bleed back into the microphones causing feedback. Most interfaces come with these basic features. Only consider getting more than 2 outputs and a headphone jack if you know specifically what you will use the extra outputs for.

Lastly, the bells and whistles of a particular interface really can make a big difference. Does it come with Phantom 48V power? Does it have a clipping indicator? An outboard compressor? A saturation knob? EQ? Do the pre-amps color the signal in any way (this is a big topic and worthy of blog post of its own!)? Be sure to do your homework when choosing an audio interface for your home studio and you won’t be disappointed with your investment.

Next: what about that microphone?


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Home Studio Essentials - Your Computer choices

In a previous post, I mentioned three must-haves for producing audio: a computer, an input/output device, and a microphone. Today, I want to spend a bit of time discussing your computer needs.

As you might realise, computers are one of the fastest evolving technologies. So it can seem daunting when choosing a computer for your audio needs. Can I use my current computer? Do I need to upgrade? Should I go with a Mac? Or a PC? Let’s try and answer some of those questions?

What do I need most in a computer?

There are two things that your computer needs regardless of brand or operating system. That is hard drive space and memory (RAM).

When producing audio, you will be recording audio to your hard drive, and potentially filling it up very quickly. Having ample hard drive space will mean that you have plenty of room for many hours of recording (and lots of recording is what you need to keep getting better at your craft!).

If your current computer doesn’t have the largest hard drive space, do NOT go out and buy a new computer just yet. Part of being a home-studio audio producer is recognising what are and are not good investments. You might not need a new computer just yet. An external hard drive might be a better solution. External hard drives are excellent for audio production for two reasons: 1) You can set your default audio file location off the same hard drive that is running your OS. This makes your DAW operate slightly faster. 2) External hard drives are easily upgradable. Run out of room? Buy another. You’re probably doing something right if you’ve done enough recording to fill up an extra hard drive or two!

You also will need plenty of memory, that is, random access memory. This is different than your hard drive space. RAM allows your computer to store bits of information for immediate use and is something your DAW will use heavily as it stores certain information in memory as you edit your audio. The more RAM you have available, the better. This is especially true when you start to add effect plugins to your tracks such as EQs, compressors, and other plugins. Each plugin used requires some usage of your CPU and of your memory. Keeping a healthy ratio between used RAM and available RAM will allow your software to work at its peak.

At this stage in technology, most new DAWs will require a computer system to have at least 4GB of RAM, and likely will scale to 8GB within the next five years. That being said, you certainly can make quality recordings on older DAWs that have lower requirements. Figure out a budget and what computer system is best for you considering your current and future needs.

Mac vs. PC?

This can be a pretty heated discussion. First, let me be clear that both Macs and PCs are more than adequate for making great home recordings. There are some advantages to having one over the other.

On the one hand, Macs have some built in features that are really helpful to the budding audio producer. Mac has built in drivers for audio and MIDI that are far superior to the standard ones that come with a PC. Also, with GarageBand as a free DAW that comes with Macs, you have almost everything you need to start making great recordings right away (you still need a good I/O and microphone!). However, all this comes at a pretty hefty price.

On the other hand, the money you save on a comparable PC can go towards buying other equipment such as an I/O interface or a good microphone, both things you will eventually need. You will, however, with a PC, need to download ASIO drivers to do audio producing and might need a few other third-party softwares to do everything you could do “in-box” with a Mac. Consider all of these factors if and when you choose to buy a new computer.

Should I Upgrade?

This is a question to consistently be wary of as an audio producer. There will come a point where your equipment begins to inhibit, rather than enable, your abilities. Always consider what the most important thing to upgrade in your home-studio might be before throwing money into a new computer. Have you acoustically treated your space yet? Are you using quality monitors or studio headphones? Are you still using a cheap microphone or a poor quality I/O? Knowing that computers can be rather pricey, be sure that you are getting the most audio production quality for your investment before running off to purchase a new one. 

Remember, a slightly faster computer will not change the fact that your room sounds funny or that your microphone does not capture your voice well!

Recap

Your goal is to have a computer that meets or exceeds the requirements of your DAW. That being said, you do NOT need to the greatest and best computer to make quality recordings. Many of you have powerful enough computers right now to do great work. But, be aware of these few things when making a decision regarding purchase or upgrade of your computer.

They will make a big difference in the performance of your production software!

Coming up next: you guessed it .. a closer look at the I/O device.


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Home Studio Essentials - Basic Terminology part ii

In the previous post, I told you that there are two domains to every DAW: the Sequencer and the Mixer. Not all DAWs are made the same, but every last one of them will, in some way, come with the ability to layout clips and modify the way they sound. Modifying their sound is what mixing is all about.


Mixing is a somewhat deceptive term for two reasons. First, even if you only have a single track, more than likely you will have to do some “mixing” to it. Second, to mix two or more things generally means to blend them together. When you “mix” music or audio, you’re doing the opposite. You want each track and clip to find its own, unique spot in the mix while still working harmoniously with the others. It’s kind of like asking school children to get along. You don’t try and make them all behave as a blend of everyone, you try and find a way to allow each child to be themselves while getting along with their peers.  


But in order to mix, you need to understand some of the basic functions of the Mixer and a few concepts that go along with it. So here we go:


Mixer
A mixer is a user-interface that allows you to process and edit your various sequencer tracks so that they sound their very best. Every mixer will allow you to adjust the volume level of your track in the overall mix, but more powerful ones will allow you to do even more editing, such as panning, EQ, compression, insert effects, send effects and more. Let’s become familiar with each one of these terms.

Volume Fader
The volume fader is the most basic tool you have in mixing. This amplifies or attenuates your signal. Move it up, the sound gets louder. Move it down, the sound gets softer. Pretty simple, right?

Mute and Solo Buttons
The Mute button for a track does exactly what it sounds like, it mutes that track. The Solo button does the exact opposite. It mutes every other track.

Panning
Panning comes from the word “panorama.” Having two ears, we hear the world in stereo (my apologies to anyone deaf in one ear!). This means that we are capable of hearing sounds from the left and from the right. When mixing, it is sometimes appropriate to shift a sound source from the center, that is equal power to both ears, to the left or right, that is unequal power to both ears. Most mixers will have a simple knob or slider to indicate Left, Center and Right.

EQ
EQ is short for equalisation. Unless you’re listening to a sine wave, sound generally ranges in amplitude and frequency across the hearable spectrum. Humans can hear soundwaves that range from as low as 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. In mixing, we utilize EQ to adjust the particular frequencies a sound source is producing. If you’ve ever owned a stereo or CD player with three faders or knobs marked Bass, Mid, and High, then you’ve had some experience using EQ to adjust the sound of your music.

Compression
Compression is one of the most common mixing techniques and also one of the most difficult to grasp and utilize. In the future, there will be a number of blogs dedicated to this topic but for now, a brief explanation will suffice. Compression takes the loudest parts of an audio source and “compresses” them to be quieter which reduces the dynamic range, that is the difference, between the loud parts and the soft parts. For example, when we speak, we lose our breath. Generally, the last few syllables we speak before drawing another breath tend to be slightly softer than the ones spoken immediately after a breath. Using compression, we can reduce how loud the first syllables are to allow every syllable to sound more even.

Insert Effect
An insert effect is an effect that is placed in the signal chain in such a way that it affects the entire source. An insert effect is run in series to the signal. Think of it like this. Source -> Insert Effect -> Output. For those of you coming from the realm of electric guitars, an easy way to grasp this concept is to think of an insert effect like a stompbox that goes “in front” of the amp. In other words, there is no portion of the signal that is unaffected. This kind of effect will always go “in front” of your fader.

Send Effect
A send effect is an effect that runs parallel to your original signal. Rather than affecting your entire signal, a send effect occurs when a portion (or all) of a signal is “sent” to an effect and then returned and summed with the original source. An example of this is when a reverb effect is used. Often we will “send” a vocal to a reverb effect and then return a portion of the affected signal. This allows us to maintain the clarity of the dry signal, while adding the lush texture of the wet signal.

“Signal chain? Dry signal? Wet Signal? What are those?!”

Once again, great questions. Here are the answers:

Signal Chain
A signal chain is the journey through which a source takes from input to output. Learning to keep each step of a signal chain in mind not only will save you headaches when troubleshooting (“Why can’t I hear anything?!?!?! Oh! I have the MUTE button on.”), but will also allow you to more effectively mix your audio.

Dry/Wet Signal
You will hear this term a lot. Dry refers to the unprocessed portion of a signal, wet referring to the processed portion. Many effects will come with a dry/wet ratio that ranges from 100% dry to 100% wet. Insert effects will generally be used somewhere in the middle of these ranges, while send effects will typically use 100% wet settings. We’ll explain more about this in later blogs.

And that’s it! I know it was a lot, but understanding these concepts will go a long way towards helping you create some top quality recordings. Take some time to tinker and experiment with these various settings in your DAW to get more comfortable with each of these concepts.


New post in a day or two; please look back soon.



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Home Studio Essentials - Basic Terminology - part i

Basic Terminology

Have you ever spent time around a particular occupation and noticed that a particular lingo is used? It’s as if each job comes with its own dialect. I have got news for you. The same is true of producing audio.

No worries, though, it is all simple enough to learn and will really help you out as you continue reading these tutorials in the future. To start with, there is one term you need to know before all others:


DAW

DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation and refers to any software used to record, edit, arrange, and mix audio on your computer. Everything involved with producing audio can be done entirely in the digital realm and is only limited by your computer’s hard drive, RAM, and the capabilities of your DAW.


DAWs come in every shape and size imaginable, ranging in price from free to several hundred pounds and capabilities from the bare essentials (recording just one track of audio) to incredibly robust powerhouses capable of 5.1 surround sound and more. Getting your hands on a DAW suitable to your work will be one of your first tasks in setting up your home studio. We will discuss which DAW may be right for you in a future blog. For now, all you need to know is that a DAW is where the magic, I mean “work”, happens.


Every DAW on the market operates on the same basic principles. Understand these principles, and you’ll be able to use any piece of recording software you come across. These principles generally fall in one of two domains: the Sequencer and the Mixer. We will cover everything you need to know about the Sequencer in this blog, and the Mixer in the next. Let’s get started.

Sequencer
Every DAW will, in some shape and form, have a sequencer. A sequencer is a UI (user interface) that displays the various audio, instrument and MIDI tracks and clips on a timeline.
“Woah! What’s a track or clip? What’s MIDI? What’s a timeline?” you ask. Good questions. Let me answer those and we’ll get back to describing the Sequencer.

Track
Sequencers are comprised of tracks. A track is generally a lane that contains the audio or MIDI data related to a single input or instrument. For example, if I recorded one vocal take, the audio would be recorded to a track. Make sense?

Clip
A clip refers to a snippet of audio or MIDI data. This piece of data can range in length from a fraction of a second to hours long. It all depends upon hard drive space and what you’ve recorded and/or are editing.

MIDI
MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. If you only plan on recording audio, then you will never need to know what this is, but if you plan on composing music or backing tracks using virtual instruments, then listen up. MIDI is a protocol, established in 1983, which standardized the way that instruments and computers can interact digitally. MIDI transmits information such as note on, note off, velocity, volume, vibrato, panning, and a number of other parameters which in turn are interpreted by your computer or device and translated into recognizable sounds. Pretty cool, huh?

Timeline
This is the part of the sequencer which displays the clips, in their respective tracks, in such a way as to indicate a progression of time, from start to finish (and beyond). The timeline might be displayed in minutes and seconds or beats and bars depending upon your particular DAW.

Back to the Sequencer
Combining all these elements, the Sequencer allows you to record, edit, compose and arrange all of your clips in order to produce your finished product. It’s similar to a conductor’s score, except instead of notes on a sheet of paper, it’s data on a timeline.

There’s one more thing you need to know about your Sequencer:

The Transport Section
No, this doesn’t mean your DAW will take you from your home to the market. Transport refers to the buttons used to navigate your sequencer. Play, stop, rewind, fast forward, loop and record are all typical transport functions found in virtually every DAW. Most of these operate exactly the same, but each DAW may have its own transport nuances. For example, Propellerhead’s Reason comes with a dedicated “LOOP” button whereas ProTools loop feature is set by Ctrl + clicking (Mac) or right clicking (PC) the Play button. It doesn’t hurt to crack open the user manual for your DAW to learn all the tips and tricks of your transport section.

So there it is! You now know a decent amount of terminology and are well on your way to becoming a pro with your DAW. Spend some time playing around with these features and getting to know your software. 


Be sure to check out Pt. 2 regarding the Mixer.



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We live during a very special time in human history. Never before has it been easier for one voice to reach millions of people. The democratisation of knowledge and technology has given more people than ever the opportunity to create something that everyone can hear, see, and otherwise experience. Now is the time to make some noise and let others hear it.

If you are reading this, then you probably want to make some noise and share it with the world. You just need some help in making it sound great. That’s where we can help. From making your first recording to editing takes to final mixdown, we will take you step by step through the process of taking an idea and creating something tangible and memorable from it. Sound good? 

Now, in order to take that amorphous blob of an idea you have stashed in your brain and turn it into a concrete piece of media you are going to need to learn a few terms, get your hands on a few pieces of hardware and software, and devote a little time and energy towards learning how to use the tools of the trade. The good news is that all of this can be done from your home. No joke. You can make quality recordings, ones that you can be proud of, from your flat. No need to pay a studio for time in the booth. With a little knowledge and pluck, you’ll be making great recordings in no time. But you are going to need a few things first. 

There are a few essentials that everyone needs in order to do recording. I call them “The Three Must Haves”. Check them out:

A Computer
Long gone are the days when you needed a room filled with magnetic tape reels to save a recording. Now, all you need is a computer, a laptop, a tablet or smartphone (Our phones are as powerful as our computers were just a few years ago!). Basically, you need something that is capable of storing data, retrieving data, and outputting that data in a useful format. At the end of the day, recording in the digital age is as simple as making files, editing files and sharing files. We will save the specifics for another blog (both hardware and software), but for now, if you are able to read this, then you probably have a device that is more than powerful enough to produce quality audio. 

An I/O (Input/Output) Device
I/O is the first audio terminology I am going to throw at you (there will be plenty more in an upcoming post). It stands for input/output and does exactly that. It allows you, the user, to capture sound going into your computer, translating it from analog sound waves to a digital signal, and then reverses that process on the way out. 

Now, most of your computers have dedicated input and output devices. Don’t believe me? Do you have a headphone jack? A microphone jack? These are rudimentary I/Os, and while they work great for talking to Grandma on Skype, they will not be sufficient for our needs in the long run. Best to get yourself a outboard I/O that plugs into your computer via USB. There are a lot of them out there to choose from, so we’ll discuss some of them in a future blog. 

A Microphone (and a cable)
I hope I don’t have to explain that one! A microphone is a piece of equipment that translates sound waves into an electrical signal to then be used and processed further on down the signal change. What you might not know is that not all mics are made the same. There are dynamic mics. Condenser mics. Ribbon mics. Mics with large diaphragms. Mics with small diaphragms. Mics that have a cardiod response pattern. Figure-8 pattern. Omni-directional. Mics with different frequency responses. A boost in the mid-range. High-pass roll off. And they come in a wide range of prices, ranging from £7 to several thousand pounds. Don’t fret. We’ll explain the differences and what you need to be aware of when considering a mic purchase. 

That’s it! That is all you need to get started. 

Be sure to read the next post to learn some of the important terminology you’ll need to know going forward. 


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