Recording your own music

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Patr!ck
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Recording your own music

Postby Patr!ck » Tue May 12, 2009 7:28 am

I've started recording music on my computer and I'm having a little trouble getting a "good" sound.

My current setup is:

A guitar plugged into an amp. One output goes to the speaker cabinet, the other goes into a 4-track recorder.
A microphone pulgged into a guitar amp. The headphone jack connects to another track on the mixer.
A 4 track mixer with the headphone jack going into the Input on my Macbook.
I'm using Garageband to record.

I've been able to get the guitar to sound about studio quality, but I cannot get the vocals to sound good at all. I know the quality of mic I'm using isn't great and that has quite a bit to do with it, but I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions on home recording on a budget to get a better sound.

Topics to be discussed:

Miking the amp: I put the signal directly from the amp to the mixer. I've read about people putting a mic in front of the amp and recording that way. Does anyone know if this is strictly a better way to record guitar, or is it better to go with whatever is sounding good.

Recording software: Every piece of software has some pricetag, be it money or quality loss. Are there any suggestions on cheap/free recording software that does things Garageband can't?

Input Devices: I know very little about this. I'm using the input jack on my computer. Would I get a much better sound by using a USB/Firewire input? Are there cheap devices in this category that still sound good?

Vocal Recording: I've been blessed with only ever having to record guitar parts on records. Now that I'm trying to record acoustic sounds (Voice, percussion) I'm stumbling over myself. Is there some secret I'm ignorant about?

Any input is appreciated here. Thanks guys!

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grant
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Re: Recording your own music

Postby grant » Tue May 12, 2009 11:14 am

1. Good voice. I can't help with that; mine's pretty lousy.

2. Good mic. One that sounds like it sounds, not like buzzing cables. I'm lucky enough to have an SM7 (not SM57), which is an old radio mic.

3. Good preamp. I am still learning these mysteries. I have a Mackie mixer, which I've been told has better preamps than the Behringer I was using until recently. Chances are your 4-track is filling this function. Remember mics are not nearly as powerful as guitars or amps. Turning the trims down and the sliders up seems to help reduce hiss tremendously.

4. Good reception. Make sure your outs from the preamp/mixer aren't overpowering the computer's input channels. Unlikely, since you do guitar, but you never know.

Miking amps is something I'd only do if I wanted to record the sound of something coming out of an amp. Your voice doesn't normally come out of the amp. It comes out of your throat. Put a microphone on that - usually pointed a little down or up (not parallel to your wind) and about three to five inches from where the noise happens (depending on the power in your pipes).

What wrong things are happening?

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby grant » Tue May 12, 2009 11:18 am

Oh, and software:

As Linux is to Windows, so Reaper is to ProTools. Amazing package. Technically not free, but they don't make you pay. And it does incredible things.

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby junker347 » Tue May 12, 2009 6:21 pm

for basic recording (I'm now using Cubase 4 for big projects), I've always loved Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/), a great little recording program with nice digital effects built in if you want to add reverb, delay, distortion, tremelo, etc to guitar parts. Also really quite intuitive! Though, no built in drums and such things like in Garage Band, but if you're looking to just record you, it's great!

I would guess, as Grant said, that your vocals are sounding bad being put thru an amp-- I'd patch the mic straight into the recorder, for sure. Also, if you're using Garage Band and don't have too noisy of a hard drive, you could even try just singing into the built in mic on your Macbook... I've done that and got surprisingly good sound.

In general, http://www.studio-central.com/ is the bible for me... I've probably spent days (literally, if you tally the hours) reading things from here. Between the guides this guy puts together and the very active forum, any question you could ever have about DIY music will be answered here.

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby Patr!ck » Wed May 13, 2009 5:55 am

junker347 wrote:for basic recording (I'm now using Cubase 4 for big projects), I've always loved Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/), a great little recording program with nice digital effects built in if you want to add reverb, delay, distortion, tremelo, etc to guitar parts. Also really quite intuitive! Though, no built in drums and such things like in Garage Band, but if you're looking to just record you, it's great!

I would guess, as Grant said, that your vocals are sounding bad being put thru an amp-- I'd patch the mic straight into the recorder, for sure. Also, if you're using Garage Band and don't have too noisy of a hard drive, you could even try just singing into the built in mic on your Macbook... I've done that and got surprisingly good sound.

In general, http://www.studio-central.com/ is the bible for me... I've probably spent days (literally, if you tally the hours) reading things from here. Between the guides this guy puts together and the very active forum, any question you could ever have about DIY music will be answered here.


I have tried singing into the built in mic before, the sound was very echo-y. Like I was singing in an empty hallway or something.

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby Patr!ck » Wed May 13, 2009 5:57 am

grant wrote:
What wrong things are happening?


The wrong things happening are that the sound coming from the playback doesn't sound anything like any of the albums I've heard, even albums that were made poorly. It almost sounds like someone just recorded the vocals on a handheld tape recorder. All of the other instruments come through clear, but not the vocals. Is the mic the culprit here, or is there some sort of signal boost I need to sound better?

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby grant » Wed May 13, 2009 7:00 am

What mic are you using again here?

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby Patr!ck » Wed May 13, 2009 10:22 am

grant wrote:What mic are you using again here?


A mic from Radioshack, the only brand name is "Radioshack". I had a Shure mic, but my old bandmate has it.

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby grant » Wed May 13, 2009 10:55 am

I think there's your problem. Unless you like the lo-fi sound (I do, actually, and have quite a few cheap microphones, each of which sound crappy in a unique way), you need to find some kind of microphone that is not made by Radio Shack.

Check eBay for used SM57s, maybe?

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby John » Wed May 13, 2009 11:17 am

Just to add my two cents: The problems you're having are normal. Everyone who starts recording wants to know the simple set-up that gets them good sounds on a budget, and although Grant's and Junker's suggestions are good, the fact is that trial and error is the only way to get good sounds. Bad mics can sound good, great mics can sound lame. You've got to just keep monkeying around until you get a sound you like.

This is why so few singers are good studio engineers, because they have a song idea and want to record it fast, they don't want to try fifty ways of recording it. Engineering requires patience and experimentation, and if you want to do it on the cheap it also requires scouring junk shops and ebay for old gear, and reading lots of books and websites.

I've spent twenty years trying to figure out a cheap, simple way to record myself at home and make it sound like it came from a studio, and I've invested thousands of dollars, and I still can barely make my voice sound better than if I'd recorded it on my phone. This is because I'm impatient.

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby junker347 » Wed May 13, 2009 3:58 pm

Trial and error is essential, and the bane of my existence.
Nothing quite like recording a whole album's worth of guitars and then realizing "oh, if you just move the mic a little more off the cone there, it sounds infinitely better" and then doing them all over again. The sad thing is, I know it will happen again.

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby Patr!ck » Thu May 14, 2009 5:05 am

John wrote:This is why so few singers are good studio engineers, because they have a song idea and want to record it fast, they don't want to try fifty ways of recording it. Engineering requires patience and experimentation, and if you want to do it on the cheap it also requires scouring junk shops and ebay for old gear, and reading lots of books and websites.


I'm not opposed to digging through tubs of old equipment and reading about engineering. Does anyone know any good sites or books that are worth reading. Googling the subject provides thousands of the same articles with the same information.

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby grant » Thu May 14, 2009 8:07 am

Good LORD, man, all you ever need to know is available in free bi-monthly installments from TapeOp. Go and subscribe with haste!

I've learned a tremendous amount from reading the letter column every issue. I can almost understand half of it now.

The take-home lessons tend to be along the lines of what John said. Trial and error. Use your ears. Ears ears ears. Listen. There is no magic setup.

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby Patr!ck » Thu May 14, 2009 10:28 am

grant wrote:Good LORD, man, all you ever need to know is available in free bi-monthly installments from TapeOp. Go and subscribe with haste!


Subscribed. Also, what are the thoughts on double-tracking vocals? Is this an easier way to make a sub-par voice passable for a recording?

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby sour29 » Thu May 14, 2009 5:57 pm

Patr!ck wrote:Is this an easier way to make a sub-par voice passable for a recording?

It's the only way I've managed to get my voice even tolerable when recorded. Sometimes I re-record the vocals and place them on top. Other times I just copy and mix the original WAV recording a micro-second after the first for a bit of a reverb / echo effect. Again, play around with it. But double tracking totally works.

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby grant » Fri May 15, 2009 7:06 am

I went through a double-tracking phase, then thought everything I was doing sounded like mud, so started single-tracking.

There is a great trick, though, that I learned from a TapeOp interview with the singer from My Bloody Valentine. Instead of double tracking, make five or ten or 20 vocal tracks, nearly identical. It doesn't sound like regular vocals, but it does have this awesome massive quality. Like, I did a small version of that on this song. It's definitely an *effect* rather than a way to get vocals that sound like vocals, but it's uncomplicated and, in some cases, really cool-sounding.

Double-tracking is how John Lennon got his distinctive sound on early Beatles songs. It always kind of sounds like that to me. "Oh, he's doing Lennon." This is not necessarily a bad thing.

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby berkstin » Thu May 21, 2009 12:32 pm

Scouring the junk shops and craigslist and so forth might be the way to go. I sprung for a Behringer B1 (http://www.behringer.com/EN/Products/B-1.aspx ) which was $60 I think with the case and shock mount. It's been great for recording vocals into either GarageBand or Logic Express - nice transparent sound. I did some demos for a friend of mine with a really big booming voice and it handled him, and I also got a decent recording of myself singing, and my voice is pretty thin.

Of course, for a mic like that you would need to go with an input device of some kind. I have an old M-Audio MobilPre and it works great - 2 1/4". 2 XLR's, phantom power. It's nice if you want to do something totally live in stereo, too.

All that said, the other guys are right in that experimenting with whatever you have is the only way to nail it down. With my rig and for the sound I like I find that recording everything as hot and dry as possible works the best. Then I have a nice, clean, strong track that I can ruin with too much reverb and 'telephony' effects.

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby Eric » Wed Oct 14, 2009 12:57 am

John's advice is sound. Literally.
There's no way around experimenting and that takes a lot of patience because every time you record something, it's not instantly gonna be good. Don't get sick of playing the same thing over and over while you move a microphone around the room. Keep it up until you get something cool and don't get discouraged.

Short list of inexpensive things you can buy used that sound cool-
Shure SM-57 microphones- excellent thing to spend your money on.
Presonus Bluetube DP 2 channel mic preamp- decent sounding, plus there's a tube drive switch, plus tube can easily be swapped out for a change in sound.
Digidesign Mbox- also works with Logic, Cubase, etc..not just Pro Tools

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby junkyardtodd » Thu Dec 24, 2009 4:14 pm

Do you have a budget at all? One cool thing in completely the opposite direction would be to pick up an old Tascam or Fostex or whatever 4 track cassette recorder. Look on craigslist, I see 'em all the time for about $100. It seems like it's a lot easier to get good sounds on these than in a computer.

You said that you liked your guitar sounds but didn't like the vox. One contributing factor there is that electric guitar is inherently a processed instrument, so there is no baseline "guitar sounds like this". But you spend all day listening to people speak, and you know pretty well what a human voice is supposed to sound like. (this is just one of the million insights learned at Tape Op)

Also, it's pretty much universal to hate the sound of your recorded voice. (welcome to my personal hell)(well, everyone's personal hell, probably)

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Re: Recording your own music

Postby Patr!ck » Sun Jan 03, 2010 9:21 am

Update:

I subscribed to Tape Op, that magazine is incredible. There is so much new information for me, a huge thanks to whoever told me to subscribe. I've been tinkering around with the vocals and they're manageable. I don't think I'm hitting the Billboard Top 25 anytime soon. I was playing a mini-show at a New Years party with my old bandmate, and nobody complained about either of our voices. This leads me to think anytime I release an album I should package alcohol with it. I'm still just using my computer with Garageband. I also picked up this USB interface called a Lexicon Alpha something, it really cleaned up the signal between the guitar/mic and the computer.


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