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Capturing your best voice                                                                                      26 Jan 05


Your studio is only as good as its weakest link.

Outboard gear is as important as your your your recording your room sound.

And that's why recording has come to be such an expensive proposition. You upgrade one, seemingly, insignificant thing like an A to D converter, and all the weaknesses of your other gear begin showing up. So generally speaking, if you upgrade one thing, you'll feel like you've got to upgrade the whole shootin' match.

That said, let's take a look at what we can do to streamline and improve your production.

Start with a room that sounds good. And sounding good, often, is sounding less. You want to minimize the way bass bounces around your room and the way mids ring and the way the highs splatter. If you're doing vocals on a mic without an isolation booth, like many of us, the room needs to be relatively still. A VERY inexpensive way to immediately improve your mic sound without spending $600. on tuning the entire room is to put those triangular high density foam pieces right on your mic stand just the other side of your mic. You can get them from Better yet, if you want the real lowdown on how to maximize your room sound for the minimum amount of dollars, see their acoustics 101 page. It's all there, everything you've always wanted to know about acoustically treating a room, at

The second part of the room sound is you need to be able to hear from your near-field monitors the genius you've just recorded. While it may be more of a stoker to listen to your music in a live room, for critical mixing you need a room that isn't quite so "live". Use near-field monitors and make sure you've got bass traps in each corner.

Have at least one really professional microphone if you can afford it. (A good microphone will usually start at $600.) I use the SoundeluxE47. They emulate the great Neumann sounds of the U-47 series etc. (Expensive)

Use a pop screen

Use a mixer that is a dedicated studio mixer. Or. A software mixer with a control surface.

I'm realizing right now that I'm trying to cover a heck of a lot of ground. So I'll abbreviate.

Try and lay down piano or guitar first while you're singing the song (if the piano and/or guitar can go 'direct' to your mixer). Try and use the metronome in your software in the name of layering your song with other instruments so it all hangs together cohesively. That first track is the most important one. (Well, they're all important...but you know what I mean.) The first track you lay down states tempo, feel and the general tenor of the song. Keep recording it until it's solid. Make sure you make a mental note of where you've pushed the beat; where you've used a sustained 4th, or where you've used crescendo's etc...

Then add drums and bass.

If it's a particularly rhythmic song, you may want to build everything from a guide drum track and then replace it with a real drum track when you're done adding all the other instruments.

I used to know Cat Stevens, if you remember him, and he'd put down a guitar track and his brother, David, would say that he'd never thought much of the song listening to just the guitar track. Then Cat would start painting. He was a great painter too. He'd add other instruments with the same kind of flourish that a painter adds brush strokes. Then you'd have a Cat Stevens song. So, if it helps, imagine your piano or guitar track as the canvas. And begin painting.

So add the bass and drums. Make sure they work together.

What I often do, is that I listen to my basic tracks of piano, bass and drums and then I hear in my mind a string line or a horn line. I pick it out on the keyboard and simply add it on. Or "paint it in".

Once I've finished 'my painting', I find the relative levels for everything and begin sculpting the sound.

If you imagine a room. A huge room. Think of the huge room when you are creating your mix. The instruments with the most amount of reverb are furthest from you. Literally diagram, if only in your mind, WHERE all the instruments and vocalist(s) are. Place them in the stereo field. Paul McCartney literally draws his mixes. Make a semi-circle and place your instruments in it like a gigantic symphonic orchestra or a very spread out rock band. The more dimension you infuse into your mix, the more exciting it tends to become.

Remember to try and spread the sound among all the frequencies in your EQ. You don't, for example, want to have the horns and the piano and the vocalist clumped around 4k. Spread 'em out. Think painting a canvas. Spread out your images. Color them. Try and give people chills when they experience your canvas.

Michael Mish

(ed: Michael is one of our Select Artists, a veteran of the trade, and a children's music treasure, buy his cds and support this talent.)