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“Audio recording and mixing is an art in itself.”

It takes time to find your own techniques and develop a unique sound whether it is musical or for audio mixing. No lessons or tutorials will make you the best you can be overnight. Only working at something with consistency, diligence and passion will perfect your craft.

These simple tips will help you get your projects done faster, with better quality, and guide you to develop technical knowledge to start producing professional results. I have developed these tips over many years from trial and error and I am still learning after 20 years in the industry.

1. Acoustically Treat Your Studio

One important issue that people overlook is sound treatment. Now, we say sound treatment because we are not soundproofing here. Soundproofing is when you totally isolate and block sound from transmitting to another room or space and vice versa. Here we want to reduce sound reflections and bass.

Mixes not translating?

If you have an untreated room, you may find that you are not getting accurate references to your mixes. Ever mix your song and played it in your car just to find you had too much or too little bass? This is because your room may amplify the bass or absorb too much bass in the room. There might be a lot of sound reflections causing you to make the wrong EQ choices. You will need to treat the room with bass traps and acoustic foam.

Treating the entire room can get expensive so just treat the main problem areas in the room. This means corners, reflections, and walls. You can also search for acoustic foam on eBay and Amazon that are more affordable and still give satisfactory results.

  1. Use bass traps in the corners that may reflect sound and build up the bass. This is a very important treatment to make. It will also reduce flutter echos.
  2. Get rid of reflective items in the studio that may cause sound issues. This includes mirrors, metal objects, metal trash cans, and flat surfaces.
  3. Carpet treat the floor. This will save you money on treating the ceiling.
  4. Add studio absorption wall foam to certain parts of the wall. You can have someone move a mirror around the walls while you sit in the mixing position. Anytime you see a speaker in the mirror, that section of the wall needs to be treated with an acoustic panel.

Need help designing your home recording studio? Contact us

2. Invest in a Quality Microphone and Interface

If you are recording live sound sources such as voice and instruments, you need to make sure you have a quality microphone and preamp to capture the sound. If you use a cheap microphone and preamp, your end result will not suffer. The mixing process will be more difficult and the final mix will never be as good as it could have been.

 

3.  Make a Session Template

In your audio software program, make a session template. This is a template with all the tracks labeled, basic plug-ins inserted on each track, sends with buses, and initial settings for recording. You will use the custom templates when starting a new project. The goal here is to save time! You will be amazed how much time you will save in the production process with specific templates designed for sessions and artists.

You can make session templates like the following:

  • 2.0 stereo
  • 5.1 surround sound
  • hip hop, pop, rock, classical, etc.
  • Commercial and post audio

4. Make Custom Presets for each Artist

Another great tip is to make individual plug-in settings for each artist you record. This way when you record, you just bring up the plug-in setting for the artist and you are ready to go. You will save time preparing and processing the tracks during a session. Each artist should have a custom preset. One preset for one artist won’t necessarily work for another.

5. Record with Flat EQ and Light Compression at the Front-end

Audio Recording

Audio engineer recording an artist in the production studio.

Have you ever had to re-record or punch in a vocal performance days later? After you have re-record, does the new recording sound different and just doesn’t blend in with the previous takes? You then spend hours trying to EQ and process the track to no avail.

The Front-end Settings

The most critical setting to keep consistent is at the front-end of the DAW. You want your mic, preamp, mixer, and interface to be at the default setting as you go from session to session. This will keep continuity to your productions when recording. You should change and customize the tracks inside the DAW to fine-tune the sound without changing the original audio signal.

Audio Compression and Filtering

Use light compression, just enough to tame the dynamics of the vocal performance or instrument while recording. You can never remove compression on audio after it’s been recorded. You can add as much compression as your heart desires after the fact in the DAW.

If your microphone is picking up a lot of low-end rumbles, you can try enabling a high-pass filter on the microphone itself (if it has a high-pass filter) or on the interface. Try not to filter out low frequency above 75Hz.

TOP 3 AFFORDABLE MICROPHONES AND INTERFACES FOR YOUR PROJECT

Be sure to visit our review of the top 3 starter microphones and interfaces to purchase on a budget.

6. Organize and Mix as you Record

During the recording stage, you want to EQ and mix as you record. This will save you time during mixing. Before recording, get a microphone test with the artist. Compress and EQ the vocal with the plug-ins and not at the front-end. When you get the settings perfect, just copy and paste each plug-in setting to the next recorded track. Don’t forget to label each track in the session as well.

The Master Bus

On the master bus, put an EQ and maximizer plug-in. (There are many maximizer plug-ins. Find the one that works best for you in your audio program.) This will give you an idea of how the mastered track will sound. Without the maximizer plugin, levels will be softer and less impacting for you to reference. Vocals and instruments will not be as upfront as it would going through a maximizer plug-in. This will give you an idea of how to mix the session before it goes to mastering. These steps are very important because you don’t want your track to change drastically during mastering.

Popular Maximizer Plug-ins

Waves L1 Ultramax

Waves L1 Ultramaximizer Plug-in

UAD PRECISION MULTIBAND

Universal Audio UAD Precision Multiband

Pro Tools Maxim

Pro Tools Maxim Plug-in

The Peak Level

As a general rule, the mix peak level should be around –5 dB from absolute ‘0’ dBFS before adding any compressors, limiters, and maximizers on the master bus. When you send the final mix to get mastered, remember to remove any limiters, compressors, or maximizes on the master.

7. Different Types of Reference Speakers

One of the things to remember is that mixing on studio speakers does not really give you a reference to how it will sound on a boom box or car speakers. Buy a cheap boom box with an aux input and hook it up to the system. You will switch between the studio speakers and boom box during the mixing and mastering stage. This will give perspective if the levels are mixed right. On the boom box, switch the different user settings such as classic, rock, pop, vocal, and so on.

Avantone Pro Active MixCubes

Photo: Avantone MixCube Speakers

If you want to stick with a studio monitor and not a boom box, I recommend the Avantone MixCubes. These speakers give the ability to hear what your mixes will sound like on bass-challenged real-world systems such as computers, televisions, car stereos, and iPod docking stations. You will probably see the MixCubes in most major recording and audio post mixing stages.

8. Recommended Do’s and Don’ts

Don’t get into the mode and say, “Oh, I’ll just fix it in post and mastering.” Always, fix any problems during the recording and production process. Mixing gives you more options than mastering. When you mix and master your tracks, you may go back and forth in the process. Say that you are in the mastering stage and just realized that the bass is too loud. Instead of lowering the bass EQ which will affect other instruments during mastering, go back to the mix and lower the bass track in the session. Then go back to master it. That’s why you have the maximizer plug-in on the master bus in the mixing stage so you don’t have to go back and forth.

With these tips, you should be on your way to making great productions.

When it comes to audio recording, you learn quickly that the front end of your studio setup is one of the most important investments you can make to get decent results. Of course, this is not overshadowing the fact production still needs experience, but all these aspects work hand-in-hand. The result is based on the first steps you take in production. As they say, it is 90% preparation and 10% execution. Likewise, this is the same for video production as an example. If you start shooting a video with low-quality cameras and lenses, the final result will never live up to expectations. No matter how much you try to fix it in post-production, the quality will reflect what you put in at the start. Live by the rule of quality in, quality out.

I’ve always told my students to invest in quality gear on the front end of their studio setups. This includes quality speakers, microphones, interfaces, and computers. You don’t have to break the bank or buy the most expensive gear, but many great entry-level equipment options will get you wonderful results. Technology has come such a long way from just a decade ago to make it affordable. This wasn’t always the case until now. Invest in your craft, business, and artistry. It will reflect in the final production.

In this article, I will give my recommendations for front-end audio gear which I’ve found to get the job done at affordable budgets. It will give professional results without emptying your bank account.

The Beginner Microphone

Your microphone will be one of the most important tools in audio recording, aside from the computer. It will capture the character, emotion, and depth of the sound source. Think of the microphone as the paintbrush for the digital canvas which is the DAW. Along with a quality interface, you will be on the right track to producing a great audio recording. I will be listing my affordable go-to microphone options by lowest to highest price. Not necessarily ranking in sound quality or features.

1. Rode NT1 and NT1-A | $229 – $270

The first microphone I purchased for the studio was the Rode NT1. This was an affordable microphone at the time when I starting, and surprisingly it gave professional results for many years on lucrative projects. It was used going through an Avalon 737 mic preamp which was a great match.

This mic doesn’t have any special bells or whistles. It’s a fixed cardioid polar pattern condenser with no switch options. Nevertheless, for its sound and price affordability, it all made up for it. My first reaction to this mic was the high output gain of +13.7dBu. You didn’t have to push the preamp volume and the noise floor was very low. This is a very quiet microphone which is great for recording low-volume sound sources, as well as the loudest guitar amp having a maximum SPL of 137dbSPL. Since there is no pad switch, you will have to have a pad switch on the interface or preamp when recording loud sources. But, most interfaces in the market today have this option.

This mic comes packed with a shock mount, cord, and pop filter. Great value for all these additional items. With this, you can purchase, setup, and start recording right out of the box.

For the price, it’s perfect to purchase a pair for stereo recordings such as drum overheads or acoustic guitars. The high-frequency range could be a little harsh at times, but nothing the old trusty EQ couldn’t fix during mixing. Again, this is a great starter microphone that will get you quality results on a limited budget. Highly recommended for almost any recording project.

NT1-A Sound Samples

 

2. BLUE Bluebird | $300

BLUE Bluebird micThe Bluebird is a great microphone option at an affordable price with high reviews like the NT1-A. From experience, the mic has a warm natural open sound that can be utilized on many sources such as vocals, voice-over, and instruments. It has a maximum SPL of 138dbSPL, so you don’t have to worry about overloading this mic even on the loudest guitar amp.

Of course, in this price range, it only has a fixed cardioid polar pattern, but the new SL version does have a -20dB pad and high-pass filter switch which is an upgrade from the previous version. Its output gain of + 12dBV means it’s a quiet microphone and you don’t have to raise the volume on a preamp too much to get a good audio level.

This microphone comes in an elegant wooden box nicely foamed. You also get a mic a custom Blue pop filter for recording vocals.

I’d say the Bluebird is just a step up from the Rode NT1-A for application options. For the price and versatility, you can’t go wrong with this microphone as a starter to your collection.

3. Warm Audio WA-87 | $599

OK, I know we are getting into the higher price range for this microphone and I said this article was about affordability. Nonetheless, the WA-87 is a mic worth mentioning for its price range and usage. Warm Audio modeled this mic after the iconic U87 large-diaphragm condenser, which is the industry standard still today. The U87’s price tag starts at $4,000 and is unreachable for most starting. With that said, $599 is still a great deal for what this microphone offers!

If you are going for the feel and similar sound of the U87, then you can give Warm Audio a try. Like the U87, this mic features a selectable cardioid, omni, and figure-8 pattern for versatility, a 10dB pad, and a high-pass filter to remove low-end rumble during recording. The max SPL is a little lower at 125 dB SPL than the U87 at 127dB (w/10dB Pre-attenuation), but still adequate to record the loudest sources. You don’t have to worry about overloading this microphone.

In terms of if the WA-87 sounds like the U87, you are talking about apples and oranges. Does this mic add a similar flavor as the U-87? Yes, it has its merit as a workhorse mic. Does it sound exactly the same? No, but still this is a great sound mic for the price and highly recommended.

Preamp/ Interface

Disclaimer, before purchasing an interface or software, make sure to review your operating system’s compatibility.

1. Behringer U-Phoria UMC22 $68

You can’t beat the price for this interface with excellent features. Like the Scarlett Solo, this interface featured with 1 mic preamp/line, instrument input, headphone jack, and main stereo outputs. A direct monitor switch is available for low latency monitoring while recording.

The preamp has genuine MIDAS preamplifier technology for quality conversion with +48V phantom power onboard.

2. Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen $110

Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd GenThe Scarlett Solo is a one mic preamp interface with line/instrument input, headphone jack, and main stereo outputs. The reason I choose this as a starter interface is because of the starting point of just over $100. It also offers low latency direct monitoring for tracking. This is a must to have an artist feel comfortable while monitoring the recording with low latency. It works by sending the direct input signal to the headphones and bypasses monitoring through the DAW that has latency. This means you can run your DAW at higher buffer sizes while tracking, not worrying about latency issues. Note, you will need to mute the recording track in your DAW so you don’t hear the latency masking over the direct signal.

Also, the interface includes the acclaimed Air circuit that models their legendary ISA console transformer to give your voice and instrument recordings a brighter, more open sound during recording.

The preamp is acclaimed Focusrite technology. It’s not as high quality as some higher-priced interfaces, but still very adequate for producing great recordings. The converters go up to 24-bit/192kHz for recording and playback for many different end application formats.

If you require more than one mic input, you can upgrade to the Scarlett 18i8 which includes 4 microphone preamps.

3. Universal Audio Arrow Desktop 2×4 | $500

Universal Audio ArrowThe UA Arrow interface is not the cheapest option, but it is the most bang for your buck for quality. If you are looking for an option of near-zero latency with the feel of plug-and-play analog channel strips, then this is the option for you.

This interface features 2 mic/line inputs, instrument input, and a headphone jack. On the top, you have input select, high-pass filter, +48 phantom power, a pad switch, phase flip, and link option.

With Unison Technology and real-time plug-ins, you can add great plugin emulations right to the recording source with near-zero latency. To me, while recording it is the closest to feeling like you’re monitoring directly from an analog mixer with no latency. You and your musicians will love it!

You have the option to monitor or print the plugins to the recording, giving much versatility during tracking. The mic preamp is a high-quality design with great clarity for any recording application.

Out of the box the interface Includes studio compressors, EQs, reverbs, and guitar amp emulations, and more as part of the “Realtime Analog Classics” bundle.

You only get 2 microphone preamps, so this setup is only for recording 2 mic sources at a time. Great if you’re just recording one musician for vocal and guitar, then overdubbing. If you require more mic preamps, then you can upgrade to the Apollo 8 as you grow.

Please note, the Arrow interface is Thunderbolt 3, so you will need a computer with a thunderbolt 3 port or purchase an adaptor to use thunderbolt 1 ports.

In this tutorial, we will focus on setting your Apple computer to output full 5.1 surround sound to your Apollo 8 or 16 interfaces. You will be able to playback video, DVD, and Blu-ray right from your CPU to the studio speakers in full 5.1 surround sound.

This is not for setting up 5.1 mixing with your DAW. This is to set up 5.1 playback via your computer. If you already have a surround sound mixing setup, this is a fast way to watch films and movies with your audio interface.

For 5.1 test audio files, please visit https://www2.iis.fraunhofer.de for downloads.

Recording live drums can lead to issues with phase cancellation causing the final mixed drums to sound hollow with lack of definition. In this tutorial, we will explain what phase cancellation is and how to fix it in your DAW.

NOTES:

1. It was brought to my attention I forgot to show how to invert/reverse the phase via plugins. I will show this in the next tutorial.
2. At 2:27 this is called “polarity cancellation” to visually show how phase works. In a real world situation during recording, phase cancellation would happen with 2 or more microphones recording the same source at different distances.

We all know that community is very important. Which is why Aaron Reppert and TravSonic volunteers make it a goal to give back to it’s neighbors and community. Especially in these economic times, people need each other for support more than ever.

TravSonic offered it’s service providing photography and media services to archive the vast amount of housing development projects are the Bay Area.

Volunteering for Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco is just a glimpse into what helping the community means to TravSonic. Stability and successful individuals start from the source.

Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco partners with working families and the community to build affordable ownership homes in Marin, San Francisco and the Peninsula. This year Humanity Greater San Francisco celebrates their 20th anniversary and launch a new campaign to build 100 homes in five years. This is a great goal and TravSonic is proud to be part of a huge undertaking.

How can you help? Lean more at www.habitatgsf.org

The new song “Crazy Chick” produced by Justin Yonan and mixed by Aaron Reppert at TravSonic Studios was featured on the ABC Family’s television show “10 Things I Hate About You“!

Season 10 | Episode 14

The song “Crazy Chick” is from the album “Malek – Life in 3D” which was a compilation project produced by the “Hitmakers” in 2009.