Recording Tips


This page contains three articles from veteran music bloggers that intends to help people who are new to music blogging.
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Home Recording – My 2 cents for newbies – By George Kuruvilla
Tutorial – Recording your voice along with Karaoke using a computer – By Murali Venkatraman
How to start an audio blog/music blog? – By Joseph Thomas

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Home Recording – My 2 cents for newbies
By George Kuruvilla

For a couple of months now, I have been meaning to write an article on mixing based on my experiences since a lot of folks have been asking me to. I must state that I am no expert myself and have learnt through trial and error. I started mixing about a year back when I joined Muziboo and did not know a whole lot and had noone to explain it to me at that time. So I started googling and reading as much as I could. This helped me get started. With each song I mixed, by objective was to learn one thing new. This kinda helped me improve slowly but surely. Later on I also got tips from people like Sunny and Jay that helped immensely. I hope this will help some of you improve the fundamentals and hopefully get you more inquisitive and start asking the right questions.

Lets start off my looking at some of the main components in basic home recording:

1. Microphone: There are two types of microphones you can choose from (broadly speaking). They are Condenser Microphones and Dynamic Microphones:

  • Condenser Microphones:
    Without going into too much technical detail, condenser microphones are the type of microphones typically used in studios. As compared to dynamic microphones, condensers have greater frequency and transient response. They are generally much more sensitive. There are two types of condenser microphones: Large Diaphram and Small Diaphram microphones. Large Diaphram condensers are recommended for recording vocals. Google as much as you like to read more :-) Couple of important things to keep in mind when it comes to condenser microphones are:

    1. They are extremely sensitive to noise. For this very reason, condensers are normally used only in studios. If noise is an issue, I wouldn’t recommend a condenser microphone.
    2. If you decide to go with a condenser microphone, you need to keep in mind that the audio interface/sound card (explained later) you purchase needs to have phantom power support.
  • Dynamic Microphones:
    These are generally more popular when it comes to home recordings/live shows. Dynamic microphones don’t require their own power supply like condenser microphones. Their sound quality is generally not as accurate, however. Most dynamic microphones have a limited frequency response, which makes them well-suited, for noisy environments like a live show etc. They are also pretty well suited for home recordings. The most popular dynamic microphone out there is the Shure SM58 and I would strongly recommend this mic to anyone looking for one!

2. Audio Interface/Sound card:
The sound card or the audio interface connects the sound source (microphone, guitar, keyboard) to your computer. It converts the audio from analog to digital and back from digital to analog. An audio interface provides different input and output options and is often equipped with one or more pre-amps to enhance the audio signal. If you plan to use a Condenser microphone, be sure to get an audio interface/sound card with Phantom Power support as explained earlier. When purchasing an external audio interface, you have the option to go for a USB or Firewire based interface. I would personally recommend going for a fast firewire based interface.

Some good examples of Audio Interfaces are the M-Audio Firewire Solo, the Edirol UA-25, Lexicon Omega/Alpha, the Apogee Duet (Mac)

3. Studio Monitor Headphones/Speakers
A studio monitor basically refers to speakers/headphones that reproduce sound accurately. In other words they give a flat response thereby accurately reproducing tonal qualities of the source audio. Studio Monitors are absolutely essential when it comes to mixing as this ensures that your mixes are accurate. I personally like to use studio monitor headphones while mixing as this makes sure that room acoustics dont interfere with the mixing.

Some of my favorite studio monitor headphones are by Sony, AKG, Sennheiser and Behringer. When it comes to studio monitor speakers, my favorite brands are Mackie, Edirol, M-Audio, Alesis etc.

4. Software:
Needless to say, all of the above components are meaningless if you dont have proper multi track recording software. A multi track recording software allows you to record vocals, instruments etc along with a karaoke track if you like. You can then process the vocals however you like to get desired effects. We will talk in detail about mixing vocals later on.

My favorite picks when it comes to software are Steinberg Cubase, Steinberg Nuendo and Logic Studio (Mac). When it comes to freebies, theres Audacity. However it has very limited capabilities.

Basic Guidelines for Recording/Mixing

Now that we’ve covered the basic components, lets get into mixing. I am ONLY talking about recording vocals here as thats all I do. Below are the basic steps involved in my recording and mixing process:

1. First of all, whenever I record vocals, I record it absolutely dry. In other words I dont apply any effects during the recording phase. I know some folks on muziboo use mixers and apply reverb etc through the mixer. I personally wouldn’t recommend this. The reason is very simple. If your vocals are recorded dry, they you can tweak it however you want using software. However if you already have effects applied during the recording phase, there is noway you can revert to a clean signal to change the effects at a later point in time.

2. I normally import the karaoke track into my project and add a second audio track for my vocals. I make sure that the levels are all set properly for the mic input (on the audio interface) and the overall mix (what I am listening to on my monitoring headphones). It is also important to make sure that the recording environment is as quite as possible. So switch off fans/ac’s/heaters, close the door, put ur phone on silent (you get the idea :-)) After all this, I FINALLY record my vocals. Sometimes this means multiple tracks (harmonies, backing vocals etc)

3. Once the recording is complete, I normally clean up the tracks by applying a noise gate to get rid of unwanted noises. I also silence the portions where I am not singing.

4. Before I explain the next step, its important to understand the common effects used for vocals:

  • Compression – A compressor is an automatic volume control. Loud sounds over a certain threshold are reduced in level; quiet sounds are not reduced. In this way it reduces the dynamic range of an audio signal. This may be done for aesthetic reasons, to deal with technical limitations of  audio equipment, or to improve audibility of audio in noisy environments. Some compressors do have presets for certain types of audio, and these can be a good starting point, but remember that you will still have to adjust the input/threshold for it to work properly because every recording is different
  • Deessing – This plugin removes sibilance ( the “sh” sound) from vocal recordings.
  • Equalization – Equalization (EQ ) is the process of changing the frequency envelope of a sound. It is used to correct, or make equal, the frequency response of a signal. More later!
  • Reverb – Reverberation is the persistence of sound in a particular space after the original sound is removed. The reverb effect basically simulates the scenario when sound is produced in a space, and large number of echoes build up and then slowly decay as the sound is absorbed by the walls and air. For vocals, the general rule of thumb is to use more reverb for softer numbers like ballads, and go easy on reverb when it comes to rock and other fast paced numbers.

Effects can be applied in one of two ways: As a SEND effect of as an INSERT effect. You can find more about the differences between the two here.

All you really need to know is that reverb is always placed as a SEND effect and compression, equalizaiton, deessing etc are always applied as inserts.

5. So now continuing with our recording/mixing process, I would then apply a compresser and a deesser as two separate inserts to my vocal track. I would then use equalization to modify the vocal characteristics depending on the song. Sometimes I want to thin my vocals.. sometimes I want to add depth. So it really depends on the song. You can find some basic guidelines on equalization on the web. It also helps to apply some equalization to the karaoke track to make the vocals and the backing track blend. Remember that the objective is not to make the vocals stick out a lot. That gives a very karaoke feel to the recording. All the elements should blend well.

6. Once you are done applying all the effects, the next objective is to apply special effects to certain portions of the song (depending on the song). For example, when I covered “Trapped” by Indus Creed, there is a portion in the middle where I sing Alaaaps (for lack of a better work). I wanted to sustain those notes more and add a heavy reverb/delay. So I selected just that portion of the song, right clicked –> selected the reverb plugin and applied it to just that portion. Then I applied Gain to that portion to make it sound the way I want. I hope this example gives you an idea of what I am talking about.

7. The next step is to use the software mixer to adjust the levels of the various tracks to make sure that all the levels match up. Make sure that the backing vocals/harmonies are at a much lower level than the main vocals. Also if you are mixing a duet, dont keep the male and female voice at the same gain. It really depends how the vocals were recorded. You have to make sure the indicators match up evenly across the board.

8. So at this point, we are very close to DONE. The next step is to select the output channel and apply some overall equalization. Most applications provide some presets. I normally just use the presets when it comes to eq for the whole track. I also like to add compression to the entire track.

9. At this point, you are more or less done. You can convert the entire track to an mp3 and call it a day!!

Some other effects I like to use now and then are below:

  1. Chorus Effect – Chorus effect allows you to add multiple layers of your vocals with some slight lag between the different layers of vocals to give a richer fuller chorus like sound. This is useful for certain portions in some songs.
  2. Flanger – A flanger is in some ways similar to a chorus effect. It mixes two identical signal and introduces an even changing time delay between the two thereby creating a unique sound.
  3. Vocoder – A vocoder plugin takes your voice and gives it a very synthetic robot like sound. An example where I used this was my cover of One More Time by Daft Punk.
  4. Antares Vocal Toolkit – This is another plugin that I like to use at times. It helps you modify vocal characteristics and produce certain unique sounds. It helps you model throats, add breathiness, make a voice deeper etc.
  5. Vocal Panning – Vocal panning is the technique used to to make vocals sound like they are on the left channel or right channel. So for instance if you had two vocal tracks and you wanted one to come off the left channel and the other off the right channel, panning is what you would use.

I prepared a short demo for everyone, since a Picture is worth a thousand words. You can find the demo here.

I have tried to keep this article to the mere basics since I know my target audience. If you need further details, feel free to email me at gkuruvilla@gmail.com. I would be more than happy to help.

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Tutorial – Recording your voice along with Karaoke using a computer

By Murali Venkatraman

I receive many mails from people who are interested in creating an audio-blog for themselves but are unfamiliar with how to record their voices on the computer. I have written this tutorial to help them kick-start their singing. I have also included how one could possibly make a Karaoke. However, it must be kept in mind that this is only a basic guide for Karaoke singing using some of the freely available softwares. If somebody wants to take up singing and recording seriously for recording albums, he or she has to go a studio. What is illustrated is pretty much for fun.

Essentials

Any basic recording set up would require the following (approx price in the braces):
1. Computer – $800

2. Sound card – $200
3. Microphone – $100
4. Headphones – $50
5. Recording software – $0

If you discount the computer cost, you would incur not more than $350 which is very good for home recording.

1. Computer:

OS – Windows 2000/XP
RAM – 512 MB
Disk space – at least 1 GB

Sound in a computer is a file. Computer recognizes multiple formats off which WAV and MP3 are the most popular in the music circles. WAV is un compressed audio file whereas MP3 is a compressed format without a considerable loss in quality. Almost all the audio blogs these days use MP3s. Typically an Indian song is 5 to six minutes long. A commercially recorded CD track when converted to WAV format typically at 44.1 kHz and 128 kbps produces a file which is approximately 10 MB / min of song length. Thus a WAV file is usually 50 to 60 MB in size. When compressed to MP3 format, the file size becomes approximately 1/10 of the original WAV file.

Why is WAV file important ? That is because the computers and most of the music softwares in the world recognize WAV files (exception being real player) and when you record audio on to a computer it is always a WAV file. since WAV files are 50 to 60 MB in size, a computer with a disk space is necessary. Moreover, the music softwares perform a lot of floating point calculations and hence at least 512 MB RAM is necessary.

And for the Operating system I use Win XP with SP2 and I am very happy to recommend it.

2. Sound card:

The sound card of the computer is the heart of sound generation both for playback and recording. However, most of the sound cards that come bundled with either the desktops or laptops are of inferior quality and I strongly discourage using them. ( Can a sound card that is bundled with the laptop or desktop (usually on-board) do the same job ? Answer is yes. however, it would have high background noise and latency ). Since you want to sing and record an inexpensive home studio sound card would do wonders.

When opting to go for a good soundcard, you need to decide whether you want an internal (PCI) or external portable sound card. I strongly recommend external soundcard since they are easy to install and are highly portable. Also you donot have to install a PCI component yourself if you are not good at such things.

I suggest one of these three – All are excellent:

1. Tascam US 122L
2. M-audio – Fast Track USB / fast Track Pro
3. M-audio – Firewire solo

The first two soundcards are USB based. Third one is based on Firewire. I have used all these three myself and I have had no issues with them. They are stable and offer excellent sound. You should be able to purchase it from an online store or zzsounds.com.

If you are using the sound card with a laptop, you may have to buy an external power adapter to boost the elecrical signal. It may not be needed for USB based soundcard, but definitely needed for Firewire based sound cards.

Installation is really simple and straight forward. You would install the driver and then connect the hardware. Reversing the process will lead to instability sometime. Once you have installed the soundcard, internal or external, make sure that you restart the system and enter the BIOS and deactivate the internal on-board sound card and restart. This will make the computer use your new soundcard exclusively. Any sound generated, like for e.g. if you play a song on the computer, can be heard in your new soundcard. And you will see what a difference it makes especially if you are listening to some compositions of Rehman.

3. Microphone and pop filter:

There are two types of microphones:

1. Dynamic
2. Condenser

An excellent article on comparing these two types can be found here. In my opinion, a condenser mic is unnecessary for a person who wants to record just vocals. A dynamic microphone is more than sufficient. In fact, most of the audio bloggers I know use dynamic microphones. The dynamic microphones are cheap and certainly reliable and rugged. The brands that I suggest are:

1. Shure – SM58
2. Shure – SM57
3. AKG-80

Most of the songs I have posted on my blog were recorded with a $30 Sony mic (which I bought when I was on a shoestring budget). It is good enough for me, but I do have an AKG-80 with which I have recorded 2 or 3 songs. I strongly recommend SM58.

Condenser mics need phantom power of 48 V. Do not supply phantom power to dynamic mic.

A pop filter reduces the “pop” sounds when you open your lips for saying some syllables. Buy a Nady pop-filter. Pretty good. It should be place between your mouth and the mic.

4. Headphones:

I have audio-technica headphones. They are warm to the ears and cheap for the wallet.

5. Recording Software:

Most of the soundcards come with a lite version of a professional recording software these days – for e.g. Ableton Live or Cubase SL. These are very powerful softwares and if you know how to get them working for you, you do not have to read further. However, if you end up buying a cheap soundcard with no free software or a soundcard with software which you fear is way too complicated, read on.

I recommend Audacity (Better download the stable release, I am never a fan of over-functional but undependable betas) – a free software which is more than sufficient for home-studio-vocal recordings.

Also download the LAME MP3 encoder which is available along with Audacity.

Recording:

Any recording has at least 3 stages:

1. Preprocessing setup :

a. Ensure that the microphone gain in your mic input of soundcard is not more than 40%.

b. Ensure that you dont have speakers on, but that you hear the output in headphones. This prevents unnecessary feedback.

c. Ensure all cables are functional. I bought a new mic once without realizing that the old mic was fine but the cable was faulty.

d. Your mic inputs or line-in inputs of the computer are NOT to be used anymore. Only the inputs in the sound card should be used. So, if you have connected a mic to yo your laptop or the desktop (which is actually the input on he internal sound card which had been disabled in the BIOS), remove it and plug it into the sound card input

e. If you want to record guitar the procedure is the same except that you will need to attach an electrical “pick up” unit on the guitar and connect the output from that unit to the input of the sound card.

f. Try to be in a noise-free place. Dynamics mics are usually unidirectional and usually pick-up sounds that are in the line with the central axis of the mic. So, do not stay too far away from the mic when recording. Place the mic close to your lips and just at a distance which would allow pops and clicks to not get recorded. Use a pop filter and mic stand if needed. (Do not try to wield the mic like Kamalhassan did in ennadi meenakshi or Shankar did in vaasamillaa malaridhu. That constitutes not only manhandling, but also will record nothing.)

2. Recording with software:

1. Open Audacity. You should see:

2. Use – Import Audio to import the Karaoke track you have. In this example I have used Jashne-bahara

3. You should see the Karaoke track now

4. Play the karaoke track and get the pointer to the position when you want to start recording. (It is usually a good idea to position the pointer atleast a couple of bars before the position from which you would like the vocals to be recorded. this gives you the sense of rhythm and shruthi).

5. Press the record button on top. The moment you do that, another track (mono) should appear below the Karaoke track and will start recording you voice if everything is properly connected.

6. Play back to see if the voice+karaoke sounds good.

7. Repeat step 5 till you record all of the vocals. Everytime you press the record button you would have a new track. Thus unless you sing it in one stretch you will have multiple tracks of vocals. If you made a mistake in any track, just use the close (X) button on the track. Track is removed.

8. Once you are done recording vocals in multiple tracks, select all the vocal tracks (selected tracks get highlighted by blue) that perform a quick mix (Project–> Quickmix ) to obtain a single vocals track.

3. Post Processing your vocals and exporting the mix

1. Now your vocal track is dry. that is how it should be recorded. When you play you would find that it probably lacks some effect. I do not use multiple effects since I am mostly unfamiliar with them. The only effect that I use is reverb. This can be done first by duplicating the vocals track and adding reverb to it. This way the original dry track is preserved in case you goof up. Press Ctrl-D to duplicate your vocal track and select the duplicate track.

2. Open Effect –> Gverb

3. Play with the parameters, preview the effect on the vocals and play the “effected” track with Karaoke to see if everything is fine. Do not forget to mute the original vocals track (Don’t close it. You will lose it !)

4. Once you are satisfied with the result, export the whole of the project or a selection of it as mp3.

5. Get an audio blog account : ( hipcast, muziboo, esnips, odeo ), upload this and publish it ! Thats it. You are done.

Preparing a Karaoke Track by removing vocals:

I am not going to elaborate on this since there is an excellent video tutorial on youtube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEjzdurnJhw

If you get some weird results, just remember that you do not need to invert the whole track but only those parts which contain the vocals. So, you could alternatively duplicate the track, silence the portion which does not have the vocals and invert. This kind of Karaoke creation is limited and a better option would be to obtain Karaoke tracks from shops.

Downloading Karaoke Tracks:

Some websites where Karaoke Tracks may be downloaded / purchased are:

1. http://www.esnips.com/web/IndianKaraokeTracks

2. http://www.melamaudios.com

3.http://www.4shared.com/dir/10484349/77a94d76/Malayalam_Karaoke_Film_Songs.html

4. http://karaokes4you.co.nr/

Disclaimer : The brand names used here are only for illustrative purposes. The opinions expressed on branded products must be considered non-promotional and disinterested.

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How to start an audio blog/music blog?

By Joseph Thomas (Jo)

Starting an audio blog/music blog is fairly simple. All you need is a mic, a good recording software and a blog (assuming that you have a regular blog already).

Buy a good mic:

I use Shure PG 58 microphone (costs about Rs. 2000) and its a basic one, but pretty good. I heard Shure SM 58 is a very good microphone and I suggested it to some people. All of them gave me good reports on that mic. There is a common misconception that a good microphone would help you make sound good even if you have an average quality voice. Good microphones wouldn’t do that trick. When you use a good mic, it will clearly capture all the problems with your voice. If you breathe heavily, or have slightest roughness in your voice, or if you go very slightly off-pitch, it will capture it all. A good mic will give you crystal clear sound output and the advantage of having such a quality mic is that it will help you find the errors in your voice or singing so that you can correct it over time.

Now you need a recording software:

The software which I am using is Cool Edit Pro. I’m using an an older version of CEP. Later Adobe Corporation bought it and released it in the name of Adobe Audition. Adobe Audition 2.0 has so many professional studio features and it is available for a price of $349.00 from the Adobe website (Very expensive though).

There is another software, which is a freeware called Audacity and you can download it for free from here. but it does not support multi-track recordings. According to the people who have used it, Audacity does not allow you to play one track while recording in the other. But Cool Edit Pro (or Adobe Audition) lets you do that. But Audacity can be a good tool for podcasters to record their podcast in an inexpensive way.

In CEP (or AA) you can play a minus track (Karaoke track) or a background music in one track and can record your vocals in another track. If you want to add another instrument, you can add it in a separate track as well. There are multiple tracks available, so that you can add so many tracks with instruments, vocals, backing vocals etc.

For example, take the song ‘Padiyiranguvaan’ which I posted here a few days back. I first imported the MP3 of Tampura sound in the first track, recorded the main vocals in the second and added the backing vocals (low-pitch and high-pitch) in 3rd and fourth tracks. So there are 4 tracks in total for this one song. Then I added some echo and reverb to the vocals and then saved the mixed down track as MP3 (you can also save it in WAV format).

Other recording softwares are:
  • Sony ACID XMC – From Sony
  • Flexi Music – There is a comparatively cheap-in-price software built by a company in Coimbatore, India.
  • Nuendo – Many of the professionals in the music industry use this one.

Checkout the hardware requirements of these softwares (RAM, HDD requirements) before you install and run these.

For those who do not have their own web space:

When you are done with recording and mixing, it is time to upload the music file (in MP3 format) to your blog. Since Blogger doesn’t allow me to upload audio files, I use a third-party tool to do it. I have an account in Hipcast and it has the following features:

  • Compression options: Hipcast provides 3 compression options. 1) Dial-up users, 2) Slow broadband users and 3) Fast broadband users.
  • You can publish the audio you uploaded to your blog as a blog post.
  • You can choose to display a download link for each song. (not the original file, but a new one created on the basis of compression level you choose).

But Hipcast comes at an annual fee of $49.97 Per Year. (They have other plans at the cost of $4.95/mo and $9.95/mo etc). They support most major blog softwares, including MovableType, Blogware, Typepad, WordPress, Blogger, pMachine, LiveJournal etc.

If you are a podcaster, I suggest that you use Podbazaar. It is a wonderful platform to showcase your podcast before the world. Signing up for an account in Podbazaar is absolutely FREE. I have two of my podcasts hosted there and Podbazaar is providing a wonderful service.

Major features of Podbazaar are:

  • Audio podcasting service
  • Video casting
  • You can embed the audiocast or videocast in your blog or website with a set of code that is available with each episode for copy/paste
  • Download link for each episode
  • It is FREE!

Musicians can start podcasting to interact with their listeners. You can give a brief introduction to each song (Say why you like it, talk about the memories/incidents that connects you with that particular song, information of the song like composer, lyricist, singer etc. You can go on and on and your listeners would enjoy it more).

Another free podcasting service is Odeo.

For those who do not have webspace of their own:

If you have uploaded your MP3 files in your own web space and want just a player to stream the audio, you can use Podcast Pickle. Instructions are there in their website.

To create a playlist of your songs:

Flash MP3 player from YukeBox – I prefer this one since they have better ways of arranging the files online.

Flash MP3 player from Jeroenwijering – This will need you to be a little techno savy since you have to edit their XML files and add the code for each song. The first one (Yukebox) is what I prefer.

I guess that is all we need. Go ahead and create your own audio/music blog and reach a world-wide audience!!!

Disclaimer I am not promoting any specific products or companies for monetary benefits. The references to the services in this post are totally based on my personal experiences.

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