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Wednesday
May112011

Recording: Getting it Right at the Source

How many times have you heard this saying? It’s almost gotten to be a cliche around the recording blog world these days. It’s something, however, that I believe needs repeating. And it’s one that I am constantly reminding myself of in the studio. It’s amazing how many questions I’ve received from friends and colleagues about what kind of mics I’m using. Of course, the recommendations follow: “Oh man, you should try the enter mic of choice here on your kick drum – best mic money can buy.” Or how about, “Hey man, what’s the BEST microphone for recording vocals?” Have you fallen into this trap? I know I have.

Great Mic + Bad Source

I had the opportunity to chat with a retired engineer last week in the studio. We talked everything from building out a studio to taking advantage of the room(s) that you have. This guy has built major commercial recording studios and has designed acoustically treated rooms for over 30 years. He has a crazy wealth of knowledge and I was all ears. The overall theme of the discussion was about the source. The one quote that resonated with me was this:

“A bad source coupled with really expensive mics and gear is like comparing manure. It’s STILL manure, it just smells really, really bad!”

Not Just About Microphones and Instruments

Changing your mindset about getting things right at the source isn’t just about what microphone you’re using or how in tune your guitar is. For example, another question that I get a lot pertains to drum gear. “Travis, what’s the best kick pedal on the market these days?” OR – “What’s the best drum head for recording?” While these are very valid questions, don’t miss the point. Perhaps instead of buying another kick pedal, you should think about adjusting the spring tension based on your playing style. Or instead of stressing about the kind of heads you’re using, perhaps just retune the heads based on the room you’re in. In fact, your room is probably the most important source to consider. Even before tuning your guitar and choosing your mic – how does your guitar sound in that room? Not great? Move around until it does and then hit record, but not before.

YOU are the source. After everything else is said and done, the bottom line is that you are the most important factor. If everything else is dialed in, but there’s still something not quite right, look inward. Is your playing too messy? Are you pounding the drums and cymbals like an animal? Are you singing through your nose? Know what I mean?

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Travis Whitmore is a drummer, percussionist and home studio owner. He works out of his own SilverLake Studio and offers custom drum tracks via online collaboration as well as a blog for the recording musicians. Travis is also available for live and session work.

Reader Comments (5)

The greatest selling single artist album of all time, Michael Jackson's "THRILLER" had vocals that were recorded with a Shure SM7 DYNAMIC microphone that still retails for under $400.00. What you're putting into the microphone is more important than the microphone you're using.

May 11 | Unregistered CommenterNURREDIN

The greatest selling single artist album of all time, Michael Jackson's "THRILLER" had vocals that were recorded with a Shure SM7 DYNAMIC microphone that still retails for under $400.00. What you're putting into the microphone is more important than the microphone you're using.

A great article. I agree that everything starts with the source. I've done recordings in small studios with a great engineer and modest gear that sounded like I was in a multi-million dollar studio. I made sure that my gear sounded great to start with, so all we had to really do was get the great sound on "tape."

So it's never the gear, but what you do with it.

May 15 | Unregistered CommenterIctus75

Last year I went into a studio with a few expensive mics for a vocal mic shoot out because I've never been too happy with my vocal recordings. It ended up that the mic that made my voice sound the most like I wanted wasn't a $2500 Neuman, but a Sennheiser designed for floor toms! That hour in a studio testing out all their mics was probably the best spent hour of my recording career.

I am a drummer, doing it for forty years, that makes me an engineer by association. I am now a multi instrumentalist also. I have a very humble studio at home, and I must say that if the feel of the execution is clean and grooving, the minor details of the sound quality are not as relevant. As long as you capture the "real" sound of an instrument cleanly and then have a clear dig reverb used in the right proportions, it will suffice.

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