Get Ready to Record
A song that has clarity, fullness, and punch begins with getting the most out of your musical recordings. Whether you record in a home studio or a commercial production facility, the same principles such as signal flow and optimization apply. Here are our most essential tips around getting quality recordings that will be a breeze to mix.
SET SESSION SAMPLE RATE. Choose carefully between 48kHz (or 96) for TV/film audiences, or use or 44.1kHz (or 88.2) for CD release. You should commit and NOT change the sample rate at any point going forward if at all possible.
USE THE SIMPLEST POSSIBLE RECORDING CHAIN to get the sound you like. LESS PROCESSING will give your mixes MORE CLARITY AND PUNCH.
SET UP YOUR SESSION LOGICALLY Set up master instrument group tracks first. These will become your session stems. Use at least five (drums, bass, instruments, background vocals, lead vocals). Route EVERYTHING having to do with drums to the drums group. This means, use separate aux/send effects (like reverbs and delays) for drums, send them to the drums group, and do NOT share them with any other group. Test it by muting a group--every sound relating to those instruments should be silenced. This keeps everything discrete for easy export later.
REMEMBER Record on MONO tracks for single sources. Record in STEREO when you specifically want to capture a stereo instrument or environment.
Keep a logical NAMING and TRACK ORDER to set your mix engineer (or yourself) up for success:
>DRUMS & PERC GROUP
SUB, KICK, SNARE, HIHAT, EACH TOM, CYMBALS, ROOM, OVERHEADS
INDIVIDUAL TRACKS FOR OTHER DRUMS (LOOPS, SFX, ETC.)
INDIVIDUAL TRACKS FOR ALL PERCUSSION INSTRUMENTS
ALL BASS -LIKE TRACKS
INDIVIDUAL GUITAR MICs WITH TONES DIALED IN
GUITAR AUX EFFECTS
EVERYTHING ELSE RELATED TO GUITARS
KEYS & SYNTHS GROUP - SAME AS FOR GUITARS
ORGAN GROUP - SAME
HORNS GROUP - SAME
STRINGS GROUP -SAME
SOUND FX GROUP -SAME
OTHER INSTRUMENTS (GROUPED BY TYPE) - SAME
>BACKGROUND VOCALS GROUP
HARMONIES MONO MIC TRACKS & EFFECTS
DOUBLES MONO MIC TRACKS & EFFECTS
AD LIBS MONO MIC TRACKS & EFFECTS
CHORUS/CHOIR/GANG MIC TRACKS & EFFECTS
>LEAD VOCAL GROUP
MONO MIC TRACKS & EFFECTS
LEAD VOCAL DOUBLES
LEAD VOCAL AD LIBS
EXPERIMENT FIRST. Make lots of test recordings. Find the places in the room where microphones sound best. A few feet toward or away can make a huge difference in harmonics and overtones. Try out different ideas, borrow/obtain additional gear, etc.
GET YOUR GEAR WORKING AND SOUNDING GREAT. Don't just guess, make some test recordings and A/B them. Any electronics issues? What would help your sound--new strings, a different amp, different drum heads, etc. ?
PERFECT YOUR TECHNIQUE. You can't change the performance itself later in the mix (just the SOUND of that performance). Listen carefully to all playing and singing technique and tweak your technique to reduce extraneous noises, ringing, harshness, etc.
RECORD all tracks at 24bit, 48k or 96k for theatrical release (or 44.1k or 88.2k for CD release).
WATCH BOTH AVERAGE AND PEAK LEVELS! Aim for AVERAGE recording levels between -25dBFS and -18dBFS (or use VU meter calibrated to -18 and rarely exceed zero). I also suggest that no track PEAK higher than -6dBFS at any point.
STORE all tracks as WAV or AIFF files – no MP3s or other compressed formats. Avoid sample rate conversions at all cost!
LISTEN FOR NOISE AND DISTORTION and avoid compression! Keep your levels MODEST with TONS OF HEADROOM so we can get you an awesome mix.
DOUBLE AND TRIPLE any vocals or instruments that you want to sound thicker or supernatural. Also, create alternate takes through different microphones or amps which might be useful during mixing.
REMOVE EXTRANEOUS TRACKS FROM THE SESSION as you build the song (but keep backups). Keep the session clean and neat.
DIAL IN YOUR SOUNDS. Guitar and drum tones should be dialed in as if you were performing live ("unmixed"). When you use unusually creative effects, print the effected track and archive the original (dry) track. Offer both tracks your mix engineer.
COMMIT! GET AS CLOSE TO THE SOUND AS YOU CAN. Re-record weak parts if you can improve the sound and not hurt the vibe. Be bold, not precious, and get feedback when you're unsure about whether a part is working for the song or not.
TRY TO USE ONLY BASIC PLUG-INS (EQ, COMP, GATE, etc.) to get the song in the ballpark of your vision for the track. Keep it moving, maintain perspective, and don't get hung up on any single operation.
IF HIRING A MIX ENGINEER, DON'T OBSESS OVER MIXING. Focus on capturing the best TONES and FIDELITY you can and don't worry about effects processing. If you're hiring a mix engineer, get laser-focused on writing, recording, arranging, and producing, and staying organized.
AVOID SAMPLE RATE CONVERSIONS. They ALWAYS degrade the sound. Upsampling at this stage is usually not helpful either unless you are using VIRTUAL INSTRUMENTS. You may choose to export these tracks from a higher sample rate session (e.g. 88.2k/96k). Contact me for details.
STAY ORGANIZED. Clearly label and organize all tracks NOW while you know what's going on.
For next steps, see this article: Get Ready to Mix