The last blog I posted covered acquiring all of the various components for your studio system and this one is going to talk briefly about the environment in which you choose to record your tracks in. Not all tracks should be recorded in the same location so there are a few considerations still to make before you hit that record button.
Pick the Location
Before you can determine the best microphone placement for an instrument you’ve got to decide on the placement of the instrument itself. So before you setup and plug in your first microphone you should take a moment and look around your house, apartment or studio and use your ears for a moment to determine if you’ve scouted out the best location for recording your next track. Maybe there’s some spots that you haven’t thought of using that could serve a purpose for recording that perfect vocal or guitar sound. While your control room may remain stationary, your microphones should be allowed to roam throughout your dwelling.
What comes to mind first for many people, if you’re task is recording vocals, is the shower. This can indeed produce some interesting results and may be the sound you’re looking for on a particular track. I’d suggest you experiment with other areas. Maybe there’s an area of your home that has a large vaulted ceiling or a stairwell that could provide a more interesting effect. The other end of this spectrum is to place your microphone in a closet and make a vocal booth that has no reflections and a small tight sound. Just picking a part of your house with a different type of flooring to record in can make a huge difference in the sound that goes into the microphone. Experimentation is the key here, regardless of the instrument you are recording. All I’m saying is that you should listen around to your options before you end up sitting in front of your desk with the microphone. Although, sometimes that works just fine too. A couple of observations that I can share that are my opinion only, wood paneling warms up vocals unlike other hard reflective surfaces such as dry wall and acoustic guitars simply shimmer when recorded in a room with a tile floor.
We hear allot about sound proofing but there are concepts around this science that are not always immediately thought of or talked about as much. Typically when you hear someone talking about sound proofing they are generally talking about keeping the sound inside the room so that it doesn’t disturb the neighbors or even your roommates. Yet when I think of sound proofing, I’m generally more concerned with keeping noise from getting into the studio and not so much about the sound of the music getting out. The neighbors barking dogs, traffic, airplanes, and even bird noises can all find their way into a microphone that is plugged in and hot in the room. If you’re in the midst of recording a quiet acoustic guitar passage with two microphones on in the room, the dog next door can quickly ruin the entire session and you may have to wait until the noise stops before you can produce any results. Sound proofing windows, doors and any other openings then becomes a vital task.
I came up with my own solution for my studio. Since I didn’t want to permanently alter or close in the windows, I instead came up with the concept of sliding window treatments. These treatments help considerably with the noise from the outside world but they are still not as ideal as a properly built sound proofed wall. Let’s face it, most of us don’t have the luxury of reconstruction to that degree. The solution I came up with was to purchase barn door track from the internet and instead of doors, I hung plywood that I then covered with Auralex acoustical tiles. This solution still allows me the ability to open the windows and let in the natural light when I want or close them up and keep the room a bit quieter when I’m recording. It also provided some absorptive surfaces that keep reflections in the studio to a minimum. I essentially sacrificed complete silence for functionality of the windows, a trade off that I’m pretty satisfied with for my home studio. There are many ways to upgrade this type of construction and the more density you add to the structure the more sound that will get contained. Unfortunately, the more density the more weight that the track will need to support.
Don’t be afraid from time to time to let the ambient sounds from outside into your recordings. There was one evening the summer before last that the frogs were creating a huge noise outside. So much so that I stuck a condenser microphone out the door and recorded a few minutes of it. I recorded about four tracks of the frogs and layered them to make it dense and added some reverb to the tracks as well. This tracking session ended up becoming the beginning of the song “Chrysalis” on the Transformation CD.
Other noise problems that can pollute your recordings that you’ll need to contend with, also come from inside your house. Refrigerators are extremely noisy and their hum will infiltrate any recordings that are done in their proximity. So before you get that great sounding acoustic guitar track on the tile in your kitchen; you may need to turn up the thermostat on the fridge. Just don’t forget you did it and ruin your groceries.
Your air conditioner or furnace is another major noise maker and unfortunately, the best solution here is literally to shut it off before you hit the record button.
It may seem like these noises wouldn’t amount to much but in a multi track environment, with ten different tracks running that have the same room, the noises gets multiplied and they end up on every channel. What you end up with is 10 air conditioners and 10 refrigerators playing back with your audio.
Another thing that I’ve noticed, and this may sound fairly picky but the temperature in your environment can change the way things sound as well. I noticed a huge difference one summer here in Texas when our Air Conditioner went out and it reached temperatures upwards of 90 degrees inside my studio. I just had to get this idea down so I went on sweating it out. A few days later when the AC was running again, I went back and listened to the session, man was I surprised. The recording really sounded different, heavier, almost denser than usual. So if you’re looking for a certain heaviness in the air for a song, you may try cranking up the heat and see if you can tell a difference. Keep a close eye on your computer equipment when the room gets warm. It probably won’t agree with it.
Let it roll
All in all, home recording is a “use what you have” scenario so make sure you’re making the most of all of the variables that you can control and learn to be patient with those that you can’t control. It’s possible to get as creative as you want with where you decide to record an instrument but you may want to invest in some really long microphone cables if your control room is not portable or if your house is rather large.
Keep thinking outside the box and create some ambience without the need for artificial reverbs! – John!