Recording Tips

Posted January 2010

Here’s some friendly tips on how to get the best results recording.  Remember that how you record it will determine and limit how great it can sound when you send your stuff for mixing… at PRIVATE RECORDS!  

  • First rule is:  THE LITTLE THINGS ADD UP.  So pay attention to the details. 
  • Second rule is:  NO EXCUSES.  Nobody will care why it isn’t world class.  “Oh, well I didn’t have the kinda money I needed”.  Your final result has to stand on it’s own, without you making excuses for it.  Pretend you’re hearing your project 40 years from now, on the porch with your grandkids around.  Will you be proud and blown away, or will you wish you spent a bit more time and money? 

Now we’ll move on to some more technical pointers.  

  • ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS record to a separate hard drive from your system drive. 
  • Always record at the best resolution you can.  If you can do 24 bit, do it.  Bit depth is cumulative.  It’s NOT the difference of 8 bits (24 minus 16 is 8).  The difference in resolution from 16 to 24 bit is 1024 times!  You’ll hear this especially in reverb tails and the sibilance of voices, also in the bottom end.
  • Always record to at least 48khz.  This gives you more room to breathe when it comes time to craft the illusions of space and effects in the mix.  The industry standard resolution is 24bit, 48khz.  A lot of projects are going up to 24bit, 96khz, so if you can record at higher resolutions, do it.  You’ll probably lose track counts though.  If you think you’re going to need lots of tracks for your drums and over-dubs, keep it at 48khz.  If you go higher it will also take up WAY more space on your hard drive, so make sure you have plenty of room.  Also going higher will use up more DSP for your effects.  You don’t really want to use a lot of effects while tracking anyway, but these are the facts about higher resolutions.
  • While recording, monitor ‘pre-fader levels’ on your DAW.  This means your meters are showing you how loud your files are, not how loud you’re playing them back.  This is important because you want to try to record as ‘hot’ as you can, but never, EVER, allow a clip.  When you have a clip in a track’s audio, it sounds like a loud snap in the sound.  Not nice.  Also it will only get worse when you mix it.  No matter how quick or small the clip is, you can’t use it.  Some people think that because you’re recording digital there’s no noise, so you can record your tracks really quiet and just turn it up later in the mix.  While it’s true digital adds nearly no noise, the real concern is the resolution of your recording.  Imagine all those bits lined up on top of each other.  You won’t use all 24 bits if you don’t record all the way up the meters! 
  • ALWAYS record to a click track.  This will ensure your timing is steady, and will open up a lot of options for effects and edits when you go to mix.  If your timing is steady, you can actually change the arrangement of your song for a single release.  U2 released the single “Stuck in a moment you can’t get out of” with a whole bridge section edited out!  How?  Because their timing was spot on, so an engineer can go in later and slice things up and still be on the beat.
  • NEVER record through an effects unit.  You want the recordings to be ‘dry’, so we can control the type of ambience added in the mix.  You can’t take reverb off a recording!  If you really like the sound of your whizbang 3000 reverb, record it on its own track to be blended later.
  • Listen closely for details in guitars, like fretbuzz or tuning issues.  A guitar can be in-tune down at the 2nd fret, but out of tune at the 10th.  Fretbuzz is not your friend.  If you have issues with your guitars, fix them now before you spend time and effort recording them.  You can’t ‘un-buzz’ a guitar track!
  • If you layer parts on top of each other, make sure they line up with themselves.  Sloppy guitars sound sloppy no matter what you do to them.  Use the grid in your DAW to make sure things are tight.
  • NEVER apply compression to an audio file.  While there are ways to compensate for something that’s over-compressed, it never sounds the same as something that isn’t.
  • When recording, the shortest signal wins the race.  If you have a 100 foot mic cable and a 6 foot mic cable, use the 6 footer.  There will be a difference in the sound!  You want your audio on disc with the shortest possible traveling before it gets there.  Even more important is to make sure you don’t go through adapters or lots of solder joints on the way.  Go straight in, as short as you can.  It will add up to a better sound in the end.
  • If you can hear 60 cycle hum in your studio (a low and annoying hum sound), don’t even start recording until you fix it.  The hum is actually the sound of your power cables!  This is probably coming from your cabling lying around in piles.  Audio cable is just plain old happier when it doesn’t touch power cable.  If they have to cross each other, tie them up and pin them down so they cross at a 90 degree angle.
  • Don’t bring your cell phone anywhere near your DAW.  When cell phones receive signal, your DAW will hear it.  Sometimes it won’t show up on your audio, but sometimes it will.

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