OK, you're using your computer with voice recording. Now how do you tweak that computer voice recording to your advantage?
Computer voice recording opens up a world of possibilities for a lot less money than previous analog and digital recording solutions.
How does all the computer technology relate into providing good products for computer voice recording? Several ways. With computers, you can use DSP, or digital signal processing extensively with vocals to craft the exact sound you need. DSP has also made possible plugins like AutoTune. We'll discuss those later.
So what are the tools? How can you use a computer and software to improve your voice recordings? Here's a few tools:
With these types of processing available, you can do amazing things with your computer voice recordings. You'll need some kind of audio editing software for your computer. There are many available, some free, some not. They offer various feature sets, so when you are getting one, look for compatibility with the tools discussed here.
First of all, dynamics are the flow of music – the transition from loud to soft in volume. Dynamics are a lot of what makes music flow and work; they add life to it.Sometimes the dynamics of a recorded vocal track aren’t quite right. Maybe the singer got too quiet at one part of the song, and you can't hear him/her among all the other voices/instruments. Or, maybe they sang too loud, overpower the rest of the mix.
You could just turn them down, but what about the parts when they were just right? Well, you could use automation in your DAW software to counter-act that, but a compressor will do the job as well.
You put a compressor on the track to smooth out the loud parts but keep the quieter parts the same, so the track will sizzle from start to finish – no bad spots!
When a compressor does its job, it takes the loud parts and makes them quieter. So when you turn it back up, the quiet parts are now louder. This can be used to make sure the singer's volume remains constant during a song.
All this said, remember that it's hard to polish mud.
EQ is also a prevalent effect in computer voice recording. You can shape the vocals as the occasion requires. Your microphone has a lot to do with the sound, but you can adjust with EQ to make it like you want.
For voice, I find that there is a lot of harshness in the 1–3khz range. If your computer voice recording sounds a bit harsh and blaring, try gently cutting in this range. Take it easy, or it will sound hollow and empty. This is where some of the most important frequencies in the voice are.
From 3khz to 8-10khz you have the air of the recording. You can boost this upper end a bit to make it more live, but with too much it just sounds too sizzly – more like burnt!
To make the voice warmer and fuller, try boosting at around 200hz or so. You may want to do this on the lead vocals; they should sound the best in the overall mix.
While experimenting with EQ, you’ll discover a new source of information on EQing. Who is this new teacher on EQ? Where can you learn the most, and best remember what you learned? The answer may surprise you…
That’s right! Experiment – try different things to see what they do. You will learn better by doing than if I just told you what to do. If you are trying to take away an annoying buzz, and you work for 20 minutes on it till you get it, you’ll remember exactly what to do next time!
Reverb is one a fun thing to do with audio. It can make your tracks sound good, and add some professionalism. Basically, it is adding reverberation (many small echoes) to a track to make it sound like it was recorded in a different room.
The effect can be anything from a closet full of clothes to a church, a bathroom to a concert hall, or a cathedral to a garage.
Take care when you use reverb, because you can overdo it very easily. If you’re doing a band, you can put different instruments in different reverbs, but be subtle rather than distinct. Don’t do too much, or it’ll sound wishy-washy. Too much reverb is a classic amateur mixing engineer mistake.
Levels and pan are two of the most basic things in mixing. They don’t apply just to voice recording, but to everything too. They are the basic building blocks of any mix. Just ask any mixing engineer and he’ll tell you, you can’t mix without levels and pan!
With levels, each track is set at a specific volume in relation with the rest of the tracks. This makes tracks seem louder or softer in comparison to others. It is very necessary, because without it your mixes would seem abnormal and out of perspective.
For example, the lead vocal should stand out from everything else to allow for intelligibility and understandability, so you would turn its level higher. You would set the instruments that are less important quieter so they can fill the mix out.
Levels can also be used to adjust the perceived distance in your mix. Quieter tracks will be heard as farther away while louder ones will seem closer. Distance from the microphone has an impact on this too.
If levels are vertical adjustment, panning is horizontal. You know what a stereo track sounds like, right? Pan is used to make the left-right positioning heard in stereo audio. Most all mixing is done to stereo, so you need to get used to using pan in your mixes.
Panning will make a soundstage, so you can tell where the sound is coming from – right or left. When you sit on the front seat in a concert, you can hear the orchestra from left to right. Your mind localizes these sounds, so you can tell that the violins are on the right side!
When you hear a recording, two tracks are played back in a left and right scenario. When you mix you can use panning to make this soundstage.
If you have all your tracks panned to the center, it will probably sound full and overloaded. You might even have clipping, because too many signals are occupying the same space. If you separate them between two channels, it sounds a lot better. Try it!
After the basic computer voice recording mixing effect, you can go into special effects. These can be anything from a basic pitch adjustment to a crazy flange effect.
Do you ever have a vocal track that varies in tune? Maybe they gradually sharped the song, or maybe they just hit one note a bit flat. How do you fix this? Do another take, right?
Not if you have pitch correction software! You can use pitch correction to help your out-of-tune track. Digital Performer has limited pitch correction built in, and AutoTune is another outstanding product. With AutoTune you can adjust the pitch up or down, and even add or subtract vibrato.
OK, suppose you have a vocal track that you want to sound thicker. What do you do for that? There are a few tricks available to do this.
#1, try double tracking. This means record one take of the song, then go back and overdub a second track. Make sure the timing and pitch are on, so it sounds almost like the same voice.
The effect will be that of a doubled voice. If you did it good, it’ll still sound like one voice, but thicker and fuller. If it wasn’t done quite good enough, it’ll sound like two different voices.
There is a pro tool to do this. It's called VocAlign. It takes all the guesswork out of it, and makes it very easy to get good results.
Another trick is take one voice track on the computer and duplicate it. Normally, I leave it in the same position, but you can give the second track a few milliseconds of delay (10-40 will do). That’ll give you a fuller sound too. This is a "cheater" way of doing a double track! Now you can give it different settings for EQ, compression, reverb, and other processing to add a little color.
Another way to do this is by using an echo or delay plugin. Then you can set the length of your delay, from 1 to 100 milliseconds. A cool trick when using delay or echo is to set the delay a little longer, say from 100 to 400 milliseconds. This gives you a slap back echo, or an echo that slaps right back at you.
Well, now you know a lot about recording voices. With all this info, you can go a long way. Looking back, what would you say is the most important step in the whole chain?
It has to be the singer. They are the ones responsible for a good recording. If your singer can't sing, you just can't make them good!
Spare nothing to get a good performance. The singer cannot sound bored. Get the singing intense and very charged with the song's emotion. This is the key in getting a computer voice recording to sound good.
Another rule of thumb is you can’t polish mud! Really, though, that is truth. If you have some gold, polishing will only make it better. But, if all you have is mud, no amount of scrubbing will make it shinier!
EQ helps your audio sound better and corrects problems when recording. You can even use it to create special effects.
How can it do all that? Let's take a look at what audio is made of; the building blocks of sound.
When you hear different pitches in music, you are hearing sound waves in different frequencies, or speed of the waves. A high pitched note comes from high frequency sound waves. Low pitch means a slower wave.
The frequency range that people can hear is approximately from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz (abbreviated Hz & kHz). An average person can hear most of this range, but usually not the extremities. Normally, 40Hz is the low end and 16kHz the high end of a healthy human ear.
Most microphones take advantage of this by having a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
When you hear an A on the piano, you are hearing sound waves at the fundamental frequency of 440 Hz. This simply means the base, or the most important, is 440.
But you guessed it, there's more!
In addition to the fundamental frequency, a lot of other frequencies work together to give the sound character. These are called overtones. Simply put, overtones work in concert with the fundamental and make each sound distinct. Overtones are the reason we can tell the difference between a piano A and a guitar A.
You know how you can usually know who is calling on the phone, simply by hearing their voice? You're hearing their overtones.
Why do we need to know this to work with EQ?
Mics usually color the sound they record. Color simply means that they pickup some frequencies better or worse than others. A good mic will not color much at all, but some are worse.
This "coloring" is not all bad, though. High end mics are designed to give a nice smooth sound - they can color your music so it sounds better.
But sometimes this coloring that happens is not what you want. Whether it came from inside the mic or mic placement, things can go wrong.
So when you record several audio tracks and mix them together, you can multiply the problem. You now have something you don't like. How can you fix this?
That's where the whole equalization thing comes into play. It lets you change certain frequencies while leaving the rest alone. In this way, you can go in there and tweak the certain spots that need fixing. Then you have a better finished mix!
If you've ever tried this, you know that this is a lot easier said than done.
I'll try to explain roughly how the different frequency ranges impact your sound.
I record a lot of a cappella music, so you may find a few differences with instrumentation added. (A cappella means no instruments)
40Hz is usually as low as most good speakers can make sound at, so it doesn't make sense producing anything below that. The very bottom bass notes are down close to here!
If you have any trouble with your mix clipping, but it doesn't seem too loud, try cutting around 150-200Hz and lower. If that helps, you had a case of low end build up. That comes from a bunch of tracks with excessive low end sound, when it feels kind of boomy.
(If any of this sounds foreign, get the basics on using a parametric EQ.)
On voice tracks, I've found that you can take away some harsh edge by cutting the 1100-1500Hz area. Don't overuse this, because too much can sound pretty fishy!
Try it. I'll wait. Cut around 1100Hz by 20dB. See how bad (or cool) it sounds.
Another range to check out on vocals, especially choirs, is 2-3kHz.
The vocals tend to come out a little more if you boost slightly at 5kHz or so. This brings out the upper end of the frequency range. Also try experimenting in the 8-12kHz range. Be gentle though, too much here will show up quickly!
OK, now we discussed some freqency specific things. Let's move on to some higher level stuff again.
Conventional wisdom will tell you about the "rules" - what you can and can't do. Get ready, because I'm going to tell you something completely different! You may want to sit down...
There are no rules.
What! No rules! How am I going to get anything done?!?
Slow down a tad! I said no rules, but there are some guidelines. You can't really "break" any rules when you're doing this, but if you follow the guidelines you can get somewhere faster.
As you experiment with these guidelines, you will be learning far more than if I just told you what to do. You won't just blindly copy instructions. You will see for yourself what happens, and you will retain it far longer.
So - rule #1... sorry, guideline #1:
Keep it subtle. Don't do any drastic changes.
Unless your dry (unprocessed) audio is very bad, you shouldn't have to do anything major unless you want a weird effect. If you find yourself doing big changes (like 8dB or more of cut or boost), stop. Come back after a break and see if you still think it needs it.
Guideline #2: Find the Frequency
When you hear something you don't like in your mix, find what's going wrong. Boost the frequencies in a band of EQ, and "sweep" around to find the frequency that is causing the problem. When you find it, the problem will seem to "jump" out, because you are boosting it. Then, just give it a gentle cut.
After you do this a couple of times, you will learn a lot about working with EQ. Experience is the best teacher.
If something seems lacking in your mix, put a gentle boost on. Do the "sweep" thing again until you find something that works. Alternatively, do a gentle cut and see if there is a spot where you hear a change.
Don't give up trying. When you find the problem after a hard search, you will remember that for a long time. It will become part of your toolkit.
Go try to take away that boomy sound. When you succeed, you will remember exactly how you did it.
You've heard me talk about boosting and cutting, or sweeping. What do these mean? I'm speaking specifically of a parametric EQ, a powerful tool. I highly recommend you use one.
You can also check out a graphic EQ.
Recording audio books helped me tremendously when I was learning how to record. I don't know if I could have done it without them.
Don't waste a lot of time fiddling with things - get one of these books. You will learn so much faster. It's like having a personal coach by your side.
Reading a book won't give you experience and intuition about how to record, but it will put you in the fast lane to success.
I have several books on recording and digital audio and I'll explain them here and why I like them. Some are helpful in understand how digital audio works, what it does, and what that means to a recording engineer. Others help with practical techniques to use, like where to put the microphone, and helpful suggestions about preamps.
First is Practical Recording Techniques: The step-by-step approach to professional audio recording. This book has a very helpful section on microphone technique for a beginner, and I still reference it. Also, a good discussion of stereo recording. Overall, it's a good introductory book to recording.
Next up is Modern Recording Techniques. This is a more detailed look at things, a maybe bit more technical overall. I like it as a good reference book. Be sure to check it out, maybe after Practical Recording Techniques.
Lastly, Digital Audio. This recording book focuses on digital audio and it's nature, what you need to know about it to record it. (It's out of print, but the Amazon prices are quite good for used ones.)
These are only three books. There are many more! I know these books, and I like them.
Should I consider any other books or resources? Let me know, and if I'll consider it for here.
What can it do for my audio? Audio mixing is one of the most intensive steps in recording.
When you bake a cake, you take the flour, sugar and eggs (whatever they put in!) and mix them all together. This brings about the final product, a finished cake.
When you do this to audio, you take several audio tracks and combine them together into one.
That is the very basic essence of the process, but here are several things you can do:
Levels and panning are two of the most basic tactics used by audio engineers.
The level of a track means how loud it is compared with the other tracks. Normally in digital recording the maximum level is 0 db, which is the top of the ladder.
Most mixers let you set the level up to +6 db. That allows you to gain some extra volume for an individual track, but beware of putting all the tracks up! Here's why...
In digital recording, 0 db is the loudest a signal can go. If it attempts to go above that, it is cut off at 0 db, making a harsh sound known as clipping.
If you adjust all of your tracks up to high, you will probably get clipping, and it doesn't sound nice!
Pan refers to the left-ness or right-ness of a track in a stereo mix.
A stereo track has two channels, left and right. When played by two speakers side by side (or a set of headphones), you can get a stereo image by panning a track all the way left to play out of the left speaker.
When you have a bunch of tracks, you can use panning and levels to make it sound fuller, and also create a soundstage.
That refers to how the tracks are perceived by the listener. A good mix will put the listener into the music, not make him figure out where it's coming from.
Digital effects are one of the coolest things about audio mixing. There are all kinds of different effects to try, like:
EQ is probably the most popular effect available, and the most widely used and abused.
An audio signal is made up of different frequencies. You can classify them as low, medium & high. They can [technically] range from 20Hz to 20kHz. What EQ does is modify certain frequencies so you can make it sound better, or more distorted.
There are two main types of EQ's, graphical and parametric. A graphic EQ has 10, 15 or 30 sliders that boost or cut the sound at a pre-programmed frequency. A parametric lets you have more control, specifying which frequencies and how far around them.
Once you learn how to use them, parametric EQ's can be more powerful and easy to use.
Compression is taking the audio signal, and squashing it down to make it quieter. Then, it is usually boosted back up, but the overall sound seems louder after this. Limiting is close, where it says the sound can't go past a set level, no matter how far you turn it up.
Reverbs are fun to use - they can make a audio track sound like it was recorded in another room. A delay can be used to make an echo, or thicken a track up. Try it sometime!
Pitch effects can change the pitch of your music up or down, from a couple cents to several octaves. It usually sounds goofy, but it is fun to try!
Time effects will lengthen or shorten the track, without changing the pitch. The pitch effect is a little more fun, but this one can be useful at times.
After you have all the levels, panning, and effects you want on each of your tracks you are mixing, you can bounce them down to 1 track, (ie., combine then) There is your final mix!
Most software programs will have a function like this (it might be called something other than bounce). If they don't, you can do it manually...
Set all the outputs of your tracks to internal busses. Then make a track to hold the output, and set the input of it to the output of the others. Then hit record!
Another way to do this is plug a 2-track recorder into your outputs, and record that way.
So now you have your final mix, what are you going to do with it? The next step in the recording process is to send it on to the mastering stage.
What are the differences?
Probably the biggest thing you'll notice is the feel of them. With a hardware box, you have actual knobs and sliders to move with your hands and fingers.
On software, you need to use a mouse to change the settings, or get a seperate control surface. A control surface is something that provides all the knobs and sliders you need to control the software.
If you think that is a little redundant, you are most likely right. But, you get a lot more control over the project with a software mixer.
I personally use a software mixer without a control surface. It would be nice to have one, but I can't justify the cost of it yet!
If you decide to get a hardware unit, but want all the features of a software program, watch out! The price tag gets pretty expensive there!
Software solutions are usually a lot cheaper, when you compare with hardware with the same specs.
This discussion is also covered in a slightly different sense in the digital recording article.
You can learn digital audio recording! Beware, it's not easy, but it's doable. Perseverance is the key. Once you start getting it, you're accelerating faster.
But there are huge obstacles to climb while trying to learn audio recording. Like what kinds of recording gear do I need? Or how do I use them? If recording equipment is anything, it is confusing.
So where do you go? Many places on the net try to help in some way, but mostly they are incomplete. Forums are nice, but they do not give the beginner a fair introduction to recording. They are more suited to solving specific problems.
That's were I came in - to help people who need a place to start. I've traveled this path before, and I want to make it easier for others after me. I'm not an expert recording engineer, but I can help you along your path to success.
So, for digital audio recording, what should we know? Let me break it up into two categories - equipment and smarts. In other words, we need to know what we need and we need to know how to use it.
Well, that's simple enough, isn't it? 🙂 But we need to learn recording better, so let's examine these closer.
We need to break down all gear into distinct classes. We have microphones, cables, preamps, mixers, and computer software among others. There is a definite recording chain traceable in any kind of recording, even using a cheesy laptop microphone. Your sound gets picked up my some sort of mic, transmitted to an amplifier, taken to a digitizer (unless you go analog), then recorded on a digital medium. Obviously this is a really simple chain, but it helps illustrate a point: any piece of recording equipment works in some part of the chain.
We need to understand the components of a recording chain before we can know how all this works together. To help with this, I've created a page on recording equipment. There I discuss the different types of gear you might need to make a recording.
All the equipment in the world won't help you if you have no idea how to use it. Bummer! So to learn recording, we need to acquire some of these smarts. Well, here's where I try to help out too. Below I'll list where the pages on my site are that help out the learning. Make sure to browse the entire site too!
Mic technique and placement: how to use a mic
Mobile recording: taking the studio to the artist
Mixing: how to use a computer to mix a track
Recording Process: a look at a recording from start to finish
Voice Recording:recording voices
Stereo recording: using two or more mics to make a stereo effect
Learning is a lifelong process, both in digital audio recording and in the rest of life. Most of what we learn is by trial and error. We do things and they don't work, so we learn how to do them right. But by finding the right guides to coach us, this learning can be speeded up tremendously. Here are a few ways to do that.
First, you're doing it right now - reading this website. You are taking initiative to learn and further your knowledge.
Second, books are very helpful in learning about recording. I have three recommendations up at Recording Audio Books.
Third, I'm a big propenent of hands on study. Do some recording, and see what works and what doesn't. Play with the EQ. I think it is the best way to learn, next to doing it with someone else that knows how.
Lastly, you could investigate an audio production school. They offer intensive programs of study on the college level, so if you are serious about recording, these places may be able to help you out.
These are great places to start your research. If I left out anything important here, by all means tell me about it, and help others learn recording even better!
A parametric EQ is the most important audio plugin that a home recording engineer can use.
It is a powerful tool that helps us to get a decent sound.
All sound is made up of frequencies, or vibrations. Frequency means how fast the sound waves are vibrating - a person can hear from around 20/40 hertz (vibrations per second) all the way to around 20,000 hertz (also known as 20 kilohertz). In some amazing way, sounds of all shapes and sizes combine together to give our ears a treat.
Any instrument or voice you can record will utilize certain of these frequencies in the sound. But sometimes the capture process (recording them) doesn’t give an ideal representation.
That’s where EQ steps in, to equalize things and make it sound better. How? By adjusting selected portions of the entire spectrum. If some frequencies are too high, cut them a bit. If others are too low, boost them.
There are any number of reasons why it is not perfect the first time, but most are technical, and we don’t need to get into that here.
See this page on EQ for a little more background.
Parametric EQ is a fancy way of naming a useful way of implementing EQ. For comparison, the other kind is a graphic EQ.
There is another kind of EQ called a graphic EQ. It focuses on the same adjustments, but "sees" them in a different way.
They both work with frequencies, and they both boost or cut at specific levels. The difference is in customizing - a graphic EQ has sliders for specific frequencies, but they can’t be changed. A parametric EQ has knobs instead of sliders. The knobs allow you to dial in a precise frequency, called the band.
So here’s a detailed look at parametric EQ controls.
A parametric EQ allows you to specify the center point for frequencies affected by this band (remember, band is this particular adjustment).
This is the control that you will probably spend the most time working with, because it is more important than the other controls.
Why? It matters more what frequencies you adjust (highs, lows, mids, mid-lows, etc) than it does how much you cut/boost, or how wide the band is. This does not mean the other controls are not important, they are just lessimportant.
The frequency control should be the first parametric EQ control you study.
The frequency knob sets the center point for what frequencies are affected by this band, and the width sets how much on each side are affected.
Look at the pictures to clarify.
The first one is using a wide Q setting so that it affects many surrounding frequencies. The second picture shows a narrow band, that just cuts a few.
What is a good setting to keep this at?
Use your ears as a judge. Once you find the problem frequency (see Find the Frequency), cut some narrow before going wider. I don’t have a set value that I use, it just depends on what needs to be done.
The simplest parametric EQ control. Yay!
Once you have the other two controls set on a band of EQ plugin, just dial in the gain to where it does the most good.
But be careful, even here. This is where many beginners go wrong - they try to cut the living daylights out of a problem range, or boost way to much on a missing area.
Somewhere in my recording education, I learned a really good principle for EQ. When you do an EQ adjustment, use half the gain than what you would like to. In other words, if you think a cut at 1400 with a width of 1.2 and a cut of 8db makes things better, try making the cut 4db. Come back to it later and see if it sounds good, or if it really needs the 8db cut.
Yes, parametric EQ has a shape!
Each band of EQ is a certain shape. They usually fall into one of 5 categories:
The difference is in what shape they interact with the sound spectrum.
Recall the pictures above where each band operated on a shape similar to a bell curve - equal on both sides. It drops off from the middle, how soon depends on the Q or width setting.
The bell filter is what you will usually use a parametric EQ for.
The high pass filter is useful for limiting the amount of bass frequencies in a track. The human ear can only hear down to about 20 hertz (a good one), so it doesn’t make sense to include sounds lower than that. Not only that, but it saves the speakers from having to try to make those high energy sounds.
The solution is the high pass filter. It does what you would think - only lets through frequencies that are higher than a certain point. So if you put a 40 hertz high pass on a band of EQ, anything lower than 40 is taken out, while the rest is untouched.
Even though our ears can hear down to 20 hertz, most instruments don’t even use the range between 20 and 60 hertz. I find no discernable difference when I use a 60 hertz high pass filter on choral music. The lower notes on a bass guitar are down in that range, but most instruments don’t need it (and sound better without that clouding up the rest of the mix).
A low pass does the same for high frequencies - it cuts anything above the threshold point. It is less useful than a high pass. At least that’s how I’ve found it.
Don’t let the two names mix you up - high pass operates on low frequencies, and low pass operates on high frequencies.
A low shelf filter is close to a high pass. Instead of just cutting everything that is lower than the threshold, you can set a specific level of gain or boost. In other words, you could set a low shelf filter to boost all frequencies lower than 400 hertz (and then have a high pass to cut anything lower than 60).
The most important tip for parametric EQ that I can leave with you is experiment.
As you could guess, the high shelf is the opposite of the low shelf, and boosts or cuts all frequencies higher than the threshold.
Most parametric EQs show you visually what your adjustments look like. This is in the form of a line from left to right across a “sound spectrum,” from low to high frequencies. When you boost or cut, it shows the visual details of that cut so you can see how much you are doing.
In my years of working with audio, I’ve found a few techniques that work really well for making good use of a parametric EQ. Keep in mind - these are not magic bullets, but helpful starting points or techniques that will help you get started quickly.
I mentioned this before, but it stands to be mentioned again. Don’t do too much! Many times I’ve spent long periods of time working with a track or mix, trying to get the EQ right. But at the end, I just didn’t like it. In that case, I took all the EQ off and started from scratch.
Every time I did this, I remembered that it just doesn’t pay to try to do too much. Don’t make it complicated. Make EQ as simple as you can, and it will probably sound better.
I’ve lost count of how many times I use this technique - pretty much all the time.
It’s simple - if you hear something that is not right, find the offending frequency. Start by taking a narrow Q and a lot of gain, and “sweep” up and down the spectrum.
The narrow width helps you find the exact spot, and the gain amplifies the problem when you sweep over it. During your sweeps, listen for the places where the problem jumps out. Find the middle of that section, and set the frequency control to that.
Now all you have to do is reset the Q and gain to best take care of the problem.
It’s a simple thing, really, but incredibly powerful.
Sometimes when I’m using the “Find the frequency” technique, I end up with a bunch of small adjustments that address small problems, but I still have a fundamental problem.
In these cases, it’s probably my Q settings that need work. Maybe instead of cutting in three small areas, I need to use one band to cut the same area, but with a wide setting.
A parametric EQ is a powerful tool that will help you achieve that elusive good sound in your mixes. But only if you use it correctly.
I wish I had a cure all solution, or a set of presets for an EQ plugin. That would make it easier for all of us.
But part of the magic about mixing is the process to that sound.
Please experiment with EQ. try things this way, and try them that way. Spend time with the Find the Frequency technique. Discover how boosts and cuts sound in various frequencies across the spectrum.
The most important tip for parametric EQ that I can leave with you is experiment.
But all of that theory won’t do you any good until you have some cold, hard experience with EQ.
Let me know how it goes.
EQ is the most basic editing tool available, and a graphic EQ is the easiest to use EQ tool. But is a more precise tool available?
If you read much on Bedroom-Recording.com, you'll know that I think EQ is an important tool in working with sound. A graphic EQ is a way of seeing EQ. It tries to make it a little easier to use.
The short version: yes, but with limited power.
This is not a re-run of what EQ is and how it works. (Click on the link for that.)
Sound is built of frequencies.
We often need to make adjustments to help things sound better. EQ (aka equalization) comes to the rescue by letting us zero in on a few specific frequencies. This makes the music sound better.
Operating one is simple - move a slider corresponding to a specific frequency.
The sound spectrum is divided into between 3-30 "bands." A band simply means a specific zone that will be adjusted by a single slider.
A band is the same thing in a graphic or a parametric EQ - a specific zone of adjustment. In a parametric, you have more control over which frequencies are affected. A graphic is more limited - whatever frequency the slider works on. That's usually similar to a band pass filter in a parametric EQ.
What happens when you find yourself boosting or cutting a lot in one place? This could end up sound unnatural. Try boosting or cutting the surrounding bands. (Of course, make that less than the first one.)
Most EQ plugins come with presets. They are helpful at solving common problems, such as electrical hum (60 Hz hum). Check out the presets. You may be able to start with one and customize it to exactly what you need.
My last tip is more of a cop out than a tip. I'm sorry.
Learn to use Parametric EQ!
I'm serious. If you are serious about getting a good sound, you will want to learn to use a parametric EQ.
As I said earlier, a graphic EQ is easy to learn and use. But it's not as easy to get precise results.
In the end, they both do the same thing. They boost or cut frequency ranges to balance the final output.
The difference is in how they go about choosing which frequencies to change. A graphic unit works with predetermined ranges. That makes it harder to experiment.
If you know already what adjustments the music needs, it will be fine. But if you're like me, you need flexibility to find the exact problem spot in the sound spectrum.
A parametric unit lets you sweep back and forth until you find the right area
So if parametric is so much better than graphic...
It's simple and quick.
Your car stereo may have a graphic EQ - highs, lows, and mids. It's not as critical to have precision in the car, and those are the rough adjustments that make the most sense. Plus when you're driving, it needs to be quick.
I recommend that you find both kinds of EQ in your software. Experiment with them both. Am I right? Or am I wrong?
Discover more about Parametric EQ
There's a lot of bad free recording software out there, but in order to make good recordings you need something good, right?
But what if you don't have the money to plunk down on a software program yet? Try looking at some free recording software.
It's free, so you can try it out before you decide whether or not you need a better system. Hey, you might even find out that the free stuff does the job perfectly for you. Great!
The software does not affect the quality of your sound. The mic you use makes a difference because it's analog. Your D/A converter has an impact too (just like anything else in the analog world).
The audio program simply takes digital audio and transcribes it to hard disk. Digital is digital, so it's not affecting it at all.
However, if you use audio plugins like eq, reverb or compression, you will affect the sound. Remember, plugins you buy will perform better than free versions
I recommend you try Audacity. It's an open source sound multi track recording program. It's widely known in the audio world. Open source means it's virus/spyware free. (Anyone can get the code to build it and inspect it.)
Pretty much anything more than Audacity is going to cost something. That's what makes Audacity worth checking out.
Other software programs you should check out include:
These are just a sampling - there are more available. You can search online for them, but you won't need them - if you are serious about recording you will want to be thinking about upgrading to a good system like Pro Tools or Digital Performer.
How to use your new software?
Using computer recording programs is a subject in itself, and I'll have to do a section on this site about it soon.
Having problems getting some software working? Let me know, and I'll try to help.
Audio plugins are where most of the magic happens in mixing, and using them well is essential to good mixes. They are the secret keys that unlock the door to becoming a better recording engineer.
There are plugins for EQ, compression, limiting, reverb, and much more. We’re going to have a look at what they are, what they do, why we use them, and how to use audio effects to make our music better.
What audio plugins do
Audio processing plugins work on a simple premise.
The result is different than the input, and hopefully it’s better. 🙂
Let’s look at a quick example you are probably familiar with, then at some ways you might use plugins in your mixing.
Think about the distorted electric guitar. That is not a natural electric guitar sound - it’s distorted from it’s original. That’s the key - the effects box (a hardware version of audio plugins) takes the guitar sound, distorts the sound, and feeds it out the other end.
Whenever you hear a song or movie where suddently it sounds like they’re talking on the phone (muffled or tinny) - they are using an EQ plugin to strip away parts of the original and mimic a phone sound.
A reverb plugin tries to make the input sound like it is in a certain kind of room, like a theater, cathedral, small room, or a bathtub. Sometimes on a movie or song it sounds like the singer or instrument is in a different room than where they actually are (in the movie) - this happens by using a reverb effect plugin.
Why bother with plugins?
Learning all about these things is hard work, so why should we even bother learning about audio plugins? It’s a fair question, and I have a few reasons why I think you should know about them.
They make the sound better
This is the basic reason you are reading this - to make your sound better, right? This is where audio plugins do their work. When you learn to use them beneficially, you can make it better. Your mixing will be so much better. Your music will sound like music (instead of a bad try). You’ll have confidence to do new things. You’ll feel good about yourself as a recording engineer.
OK, you get the picture. There is no excuse for not learning how to maximize your resources in recording and mixing. Audio plugins are tools, and some of your best, so use them well.
You can take something bad and make it good
For those of us who don’t get a good track the first time, audio processing gives us the tools to make it right. Let’s face it - no one is perfect. I’ll be the first to admit it. But here’s my secret - plugins are where I make up for it. If anything that I produce sounds good, it’s not necessarily because I’m a good engineer. It’s because I spent enough of time working with my EQ, compression, and reverb to make it better.
The only caveat here is mud - you can’t polish mud. You can sculpt mud. You can even sprinkle glitter on it. But you can’t polish mud.
That said, I’ve done some amazing things with audio processing - I’ve taken some music that I thought was mud and polished it up to something nice. That is the power of audio plugins.
Aren’t plugins for amateurs?
In choral and classical music, sometimes you see in the CD liner notes the fact that there was no audio processing on that recording. It basically went from microphone straight to CD.
This is admirable, if you can do it. But the people who do it have many years of experience. It requires that you do all your “mixing” when before you put the track down - by choosing the best set of mics, and placing them exactly. That is no small feat.
In my opinion, if you have tools (audio plugins), why not use them? Don’t overuse them, but make use of what you have. If it helps the sound, use it. If it doesn’t, please don’t.
After all, the sound is the final arbiter. All mixing and recording results in a finished product. Your goal as recording engineer is to make that sound as good as you can.
Kinds of plugins
Alright, now the fun part - we’ll look at what kinds of plugins are out there. I’ll split them up into two groups for easy thinking.
These are the core of the whole plugin world. They do the brunt work. Start here, before getting distracted by shiny objects (specialty plugins). They are:
EQ divides the sound spectrum into frequency bands (groups), and works with them individually to change the character of the sound. To find out more, move on to the EQ page, or see some detailed info on parametric EQor graphic EQ.
Compression is a way to manage the dynamic range of the music. In other words, you can tame down some of the loud parts, boost everything, and thus bring up the quiet parts in relation to the loud. See the compression page for more (soon to come).
We mentioned reverb before, earlier on this page - it is a way to put the signal into a different room. For instance, a choral recording often benefits from a small touch of reverb added to what is on the track (this depends on how much is already present). More on reverb coming soon.
I would put all other audio plugins into this category. Why? Because they are all additions to the essentials - just work through EQ, compression, and reverb first before cracking out these.
They are all helpful, handy, and useful, but will not substitute for the essentials. They are often more complex - a multi-band compressor is somewhat between an EQ and a regular compressor. A de-esser is a kind of narrow, one band compressor. An exciter has few controls (probably just a more/less knob), but works behind the scenes with EQ type things.
Don’t let them distract you from the core audio processors.
Having said that, let’s talk about bundles.
Audio plugin bundles
For audio software plugins, a bundle is a very common way of packaging different plugins together, giving a nice kit. Waves is a company that I use, and they do primarily bundles. Check out their Gold bundle, and their Platinum bundle, which I use.
I recommend buying plugins in bundles to save money and expand your collection before actually needing them.
Hardware or software
Whenever I talk about audio plugins on this page, I mean software plugins most of the time.
Why? Because most people in the home recording world work with computers for our recording. Software plugins are more flexible:
In short - software audio plugins are best for most people.
After that whirlwind tour of audio plugins for mixing, first take a deep breath. Now get started! I spent hours with EQ before getting to be even close to proficient. It’s a learning exercise. Start by picking up an EQ plugin that probably came with your computer recording software. Experiment with it, and kick your mixing into the next gear.
Computer recording software is perhaps the most difficult part of home recording. There are so many audio recording programs available. They all do the same thing, or do they? And how do they work - how to use them?(Further down on this page.) Don't worry, we're about to find out. This page is designed to help you figure out what you need.
In short, computer recording software translates between you and your audio. It lets you do stuff with it. It mixes it. It applies processing to the audio. The audio recording program will work between you (with the screen, keyboard, and mouse) and your audio recording interface. It takes the sound from your audio inputs and records it to hard disk.
There are many ways for music recording software to look, or design the user interface. Various programs aim for different functions. Some are designed for maximum midi integration. Others work well with loops or creating music through small samples that are repeated. When you look at the big players, they do it all.
In my opinion, if you are serious about recording, and want something that will serve you well, you will eventually go with a bigger computer recording software package. It's not worth it to keep trying to limp along on something that limits your creativity and makes you spend time on non-musical things.
But because you must get started somewhere, here are my free recording software suggestions. My advice? Use them to get a feel for things, then move on to a demo of a better product.
The gold standard in the music recording software industry is Pro Tools. Simply put, it is the most popular program available, and does it all. At my college, they taught Pro Tools to all the music tech people.
One that I use extensively is Digital Performer. It is a Mac only program, and it works very well. I find it easy to use and logical.
Steinberg Cubase includes both a Mac and PC offering. It is also in the top league of computer recording software programs. It offers all the normal - midi, recording, processing, you name it.
A unique offering is Ableton Live Intro. It is a limited version of their full level software, and is at a very attractive price point compared to the others listed here. This recording program is geared to the process a musician might have. It covers song writing and composing as well as recording and mixing.
In the end, you need to make a decision. Which of all the audio recording programs will work best for me? For myself, the decision was rather easy. I had already bought into the MOTU hardware audio interfaces (the same company who makes Digital Performer), and they offered an upgrade version of Digital Performer. But I did try other demos and options. That's what you must do. See what's there, and make an educated decision. Check out the options I listed above. Get the demo and give it a test drive. Then come back here, click through and order!
Don't forget about audio plugins for your software. Plugins work on the sound after you record it, giving you all sorts of interesting effects.
It's all well and good to have the right program, but you have to know how to use it in order to get results. Recording studio software is often complicated to figure out, but I'll de-mystify it in short order here.
The basic building block for all audio recording programs is the track. A track can hold audio or midi data, and when there is more than one track, the software will mix things down. This is the beauty of recording software - it can hold as many tracks as you want. It's easy to start using a lot of tracks.
Various computer recording software programs present the options and the user interface differently, but they will all have tracks. Remember, tracks are fundamental.
To understand a particular program, try to find the flow of a track. For instance, in Digital Performer, I crreate the track, and set the input and output of it. The input allows me to record from my audio recording interface. The output gives me control over making sure the sound comes through my monitors. This needs to be chosen because there are several ways to route sound through the software.
Once the track (or tracks) are setup properly, you can then record onto them with the following steps.
It really is that simple. In fact, it is quite addicting and fun.
Once you have the audio recorded into the tracks, the fun of editing can begin. You can cut the audio up into sections, record over some of those, move them around, and generally have a lot of fun with them. Then you can apply processing with audio plugins like EQ and compression. This process is known as mixing.
From there, all computer recording software programs will have a way to export the mixdown as a single audio file that you can burn to a CD or import to iTunes. Some will burn the CD directly from the program itself.
So this is what computer recording software does in a nutshell. Did I miss anything? I invite you to join in the conversation, and share what recording programs work well for you. How can this page be made more user friendly? Please add your comments to a special page below.