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Ceedjay's audio tips and tricks

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Here's a special page in which I give you a load of audio tips and tricks. Most of them were picked out here and there and written down in a small notepad which I jealously keep. There are even some of them which I could never try. But the biggest part of all this was given to me by sound engineers or musicians... Lastly, some of these tips were totally improvised when facing certain problems and turned out to be working fairly well (at least, for myself !). Therefore, take the opportunity to experiment !
Of course, everything that's written here is given as it comes, without any conceitedness ;o)


To go directly to the tip you're interested in :

Record "dry"
In-phase cabinets
The nervous-singer boob
Against whistling singers
No headphone output plug
Something you should avoid
Feedback on guitars without an amplifier
Humming
Top of the pops
Hunting all useless background noise
Swap rooms
The 400 000's trick
Multi micros
Raw guitars and basses or no microphone input on your soundcard


1) Record "dry".

Unless you're 100-% sure you want a precise effect on a digital audio track, it is better to record it "raw like sushi". It is possible to add as many effects as you want on an existing audio file, but it is almost impossible to "take them off" once they're here. This is true, above all, for voice tracks. Guitarists (I am one of them) often prefer recording their instrument already processed through their effect boxes, especially with distorted guitars. But....be careful !

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2) In-phase cabinets.

There is an unanswerable (and far easier than dismantling them) way to check that your monitoring cabinets (or whatever you're using as monitors) are well in phase, taht is to say that they "pull" or "push" the air together at the same time. Get a 1.5-Volt battery. Take off the cabinet covers if there are some. Take the cable of one of the cabinets and "plug" it on the battery. Don't worry it's completely harmless ! Mark the wire which is connected to the positive pin of the battery when the cabinet's woofer moves forward. Do exactly the same with the other cabinet. All you have to do now is connecting the marked wires to the positive terminals of your amplifier and roll on !

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3) The nervous-singer boob.

If the singer you're recording is always moving in every direction here's what happens : one time you'll hear nothing, one time he'll stick his mouth onto the microphone and you can say hello to pops and distortion. So, here's the trick. You'll need 3 microphones and a mixing desk. The first microphone doesn't move (the one into which you're trying to make him sing). You add a second mike just behind him, at about 20 inches away and a third one just a little above the first one and the singer's mouth. What you'll never tell him is that the only mike that will be recorded (and even connected) will be the third one !! The one behind him will only prevent him from moving backwards and when he'll come to stick his mouth onto the mike he thinks he's singing in, no problem !! Not bad, is it ?

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4) Against whistling singers.

If you're using a static microphone and if your singer comes too close to the capsule, the sound will whistle. A very simple trick : take a pencil and vertically fasten it on the capsule. It'll break the air flow and the membrane will stop whistling. It is sometimes better than a de-esser which can impair the sound.

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5) No headphone output plug.

Certain line outputs give enough electricity to drive headphones. What's the use ? Just as a control, it is sometimes handy, when you don't have any preamp or monitoring system at hand. The sound will be crappy and you'll have only one channel available in most cases, but it's enough to check what comes out from a machine.

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6) Something you should avoid.

Do not lay your monitors on the desk or on your mixing desk's control band (lucky guies !). There are big risks of loosing signal at certain frequencies. The best thing to do is to place them as high as you head and to position them so that they draw an equilateral triangle with your head, at a distance of roughly 5 feet on each side. In the same way, if your cabinets have a bass-reflex opening at the back, do not stick them too close to the walls : in order to counterbalance the big low frequencies produced by this positioning, you'll cut basses when mixing your music. And when listening to it onto another system, the song will lack basses.

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7) Feedback on guitars without an amplifier.

If, like me, you record your guitars without using any amplifier but, for instance, a multi-effect unit (I do this because I don't have enough space and because I live in a flat !), there's still some hope to get some feedback and sustain. Use your computer's multimedia speakers. All you have to do is getting closer to them when you want the guitar to scream. And it works. But, don't try to get the tone of a real guitar amp. It is only home-studio work !

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8) Humming.

If you experience hum problems, there are several ways, if not to cancel them, at least to lower them. If those problems do not affect recordings (it's fairly rare when you have humming problems) it's not so bad, even if it's not very enjoyable. On the other hand, when it affects the recorded sound, it's a real pain in the a**e and something must be done.
The first thing to do, and probably the most important one, is to check that you're using quality cables : forget skinny and unshielded cables. Only good cable if you want to do some good work. In the same way, your cables should be as short as possible (but long enough to be able to move !!).
Second thing : plug computer devices (computer, modem, scanner, printer...) on a multiple plug socket that is different from the one on which you'll be plugging audio equipment (amps, monitors...). These two multiple plug sockets will be connected to two different wall sockets, preferably on two different electrical circuits. As much as possible, you should avoid mixing elctricity and sound (audio). If you don't have any other choice and if some audio cables have to cross electrical one, have them cross at an angle of 90° ; you'll minimize interferences a little. If can afford it, do not hesitate about buying protected sockets (against overloads and thunder).
Last thing : get away from the computer screen and the PC box as if they were a plague. They're probably the biggest generators of interferences in your project studio (the screen because of its tube, and the box because of the electronic components it has inside, generating high frequencies going through audio cables).
This said, don't worry too much. Modern electrical systems are better and better filtered and wired and music devices comply with strict anti-interference rules. I used to have quite a few cables almost everywhere in my project studio and I never got any humming. Just a "click" when the electric heaters start (you just have to turn it off when you're recording).

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9) Top of the pops.

If your microphone (or the singer who sings into it) produces too many of pops, you can add an anti-pop filter. But, when you'll look at the price of this kind of crop in a shop, maybe you'll be thinking that you'd better buy something for important. Don't worry, you can make it all by yourself. Get a steel/iron hanger and give it a circular shape. Then, fasten a tight around it, tightly stretching it. Fasten all this stuff onto the microphone stand and roll on ! It is almost as good as a real one with AKG written on it ;o)) Hint : You can add cellotape around the steel hanger and double the piece of tight !
And if still pops too much, try to raise the microphone and tilt it downwards so that the top of the grid is just a bit below the mouth.
Now, if you still have pops........change your singer, it's a brute ;o))

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10) Hunting all useless background noise.

When you're recording something through your mixing console or when you're mixing the tracks of your future hit single (in your sequencer or through your console), always "close" unused tracks (by muting them or putting their faders all the way down). In the same way, always try to have the lowest possible gain level in relation to the level of the faders of each channel. Doing the opposite raises background noises dramatically.
At last, when recording with your sequencer, you should better raise the recording level directly from the source (output level on the multi-effect unit or the mixing console, or anything else) rather than raising the virtual fader of your sequencer. This is done in order to lower signal to noise ratio.

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11) Swap rooms.

According to the sound (natural, not through effet processing) that you'll want to get onto your tracks, you'll have the possibility to go to another room in your flat or house. This way, a bathroom will give cristal-clear and defined sounds (hard surfaces), a bedroom will sound warm and dry (carpets and furniture) and the toilets (yes, the toilets !!) will give a very compressed sound working very well with guitars (recorded through a microphone, of course !). Experiment, it's really surprising.

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12) The 400 000's trick.

This is the killing trick if you want to keep a coherent sound : the 400 000's trick. It's very simple. The multiplication of the lowest frequency by the highest frequency that you have in your file must give 400 000. For example, CD sound : 20 by 20 000 Hz = 400 000. It sounds very good. SECAM TV sound : 50 by 8 000 = 400 000. It works, too. On the other hand, the sound on the telephone : 300 by 3 000 = 900 000. It sounds poor and we get the impression that something is missing.

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13) Multi micros.

If you have the chance to own a mixing console and several microphones, you shouldn't hesitate about using them all when you're recording (especially voices), as atmosphere mikes, at the same time as your main mike. You can't imagine how the sound can be transfigured ! On the other hand, beware of the phase between the mikes : that is to say that your mikes must "see" air depressions and "receive" air compressions at the same time. If this is the case, no problem. If not, you'll have signal loss at certain frequencies.

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14) Raw guitars and basses or no microphone input on your soundcard.

If you want to record the natural sound of a guitar or a bass but don't have any DI box, beware of impedance problems ! Here's what I do : I use my multi-effect unit which I bypass. It is also convenient for those using a soundcard without any mixing device nor real microphone inputs. Do the same : microphone into the bypassed mutli-effect unit, and its output into the soundcard line-in.

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Ceedjay, on the 07-07-2002

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