Below are some tips and suggestions to help make your audio projects as optimized as possible. We have separated the tips into two sections, Recording and Mixing. While music production is very subjective and has no "rules", there are some technical issues which can be avoided or lessened in order to get the clearest possible sound and signals so that your listeners can focus on the music and not unwanted pops and distorted sounds which could have been avoided. We don't want to tell you how to make your music, we only intend to help you get the best technical results.
Recording instruments and vocals is a main part of music production. Unless all of your songs consist of pre-recorded and mastered samples, you will need to capture these sounds yourself. With instruments, try to get them sounding as bright and clear as possible before recording. For instance, putting new strings on a guitar can make a huge difference. Over time they lose their brightness gradually, and you may not be aware how much they have "dulled". New strings can make an instrument really come alive for the mics. Listen for unwanted rattles and vibrations in your stringed instruments and drum sets. These may not sound loud to you as you are playing, but can translate loudly into the microphones. Removing them later in mixing can be impossible to accomplish. So, tape loose screws down or replace if possible, tighten stands, even look for objects in the room which may be vibrating on their own from resonance.
Make sure you are not recording vocals on a day where you are not feeling your best. You want to be in the best mood that your music requires. If you are feeling down or tired, your vocals can sound that way too. If you sound bored and uninterested, your audience may get that impression also while not specifically putting a finger on it. Also, you want to have something to sip on occasionally. Having a dry mouth can hinder the clarity of your vocals. Having your mouth slightly wet can enhance the clarity and brightness of your vocal tracks. It is best to just wait a few days if you are coming off a cold or chest infection. Unless it is what you are going for, a bit of phlegm in the back of the throat probably won't help things. Not to mention, you want to be able to take relaxed breaths while singing. Sounding out of breath is almost never a good thing.
Try to turn off any unnecessary equipment in the room which may add a hum or background noise. These sounds may sound to low to matter while recording, but can become louder later if compressing or limiting is done to the vocal tracks. The mastering process has been known to bring up low unwanted sounds to the forefront. When getting your recording levels, you never want the signal in the meter to go red. This means, the level in the meter should never go all of the way to the top. When the signal goes all of the way to the top of the meter, the sound can overload the system. Overloading the system can produce distorted sound, which may become more audible later while mixing or mastering. You should test your input volume thoroughly before actually recording your tracks. If it goes to the top, you can turn down the gain a bit to remedy this. Try singing your loudest passages where you sing fullest, while watching the meter. Moving back away from the microphone may not be the best solution, as discussed in the next paragraph.
While we recommend getting the best vocal microphone you can afford, placing it correctly in front of you can be a crucial part of getting the most balanced sound on your vocals. Placing the mic too far away can cause a loss in vocal power and presence. Conversely, being too close to it can make your voice sound too thick, and produce plosives (plosives are pops and heavy wind sounds caused by singing "B" and "P" sounds too close to the mic for instance). Regardless of the type of sound capture device you are using, a good balanced placement will help get the best overall sound. One test we recommend is the hand test. While singing a smooth consistent note, try moving your hand to and from your mouth. You want to be essentially singing into your open hand as if it were a mic. Move your hand from a few inches away from your mouth to about two feet away. Keep going back and forth as you sing. While your hand gets closer to your mouth, you will begin to hear your voice reflecting off of your hand. A good microphone placement in general will be right in the spot you begin to hear the effect of your hand in your ears (usually 6-8 inches away from your mouth). This placement ensures a good signal to noise ratio, while minimizing plosives. After finding this sweet spot, adjust your gain level while singing the loudest fullest sections of your song. Finally, investing in a "pop filter" can be a great way to get a nice live sound while minimizing pops and plosives. A "pop filter" is a small thin screen which blocks air and wind from hitting the microphone, while letting the sound through. Home recording can be difficult, but learning from many different sources and gathering as much information on the subject as possible can help greatly.
As far as input level goes, the "not going red" rule also applies to instruments. Try to get the level as high as you can without going red. You want to play the loudest parts of a song on an instrument, as you pay attention to the input meter. Make your adjustments before you record the track, because once an overloaded signal is recorded, it is not always reversible. For this reason, we do recommend the use of compression and limiting during recording only if it is used correctly. This can be somewhat complicated to explain because each instrument and voice is different. Not to mention the equipment used has a part to play in the use of these effects. The general idea is to get the most from your signal while protecting the signal from going red. We also found some good information about audio mastering in this article. If you are one of our clients, you probably already know that you can send us your individual tracks to inspect, and we will work with you to get the best sound possible. We are always willing to help you get the best results on your project, no matter what it takes.
The first and most important thing I want to say about mixing and adding effects to the tracks is to have a specific purpose for each effect you add to a track. These adjustments should be based on a logical decision you make after listening extensively to the track and the mix, and then figuring out what is missing or what specifically is needed. I am not a big fan of automatically plugging-in an equalizer, and a compressor for example on every track and fiddling around with them. You may be making adjustments which are not necessary, along with needlessly truncating the audio data. Like I said before, it is best to listen to the tracks together, then decide which adjustments are necessary. Always listen to the results of your adjustments and decide if they actually improved the sound.
One of the perhaps unintended affects of adding processing to tracks is a change in loudness of the particular track. So, after you add some form of processing effect to your track, you may have to adjust the volume level of the track to put it back to where it was in the mix. For example, compression can produce an overall loudness change to a track. Say you have a vocal track where the singer moved to and from the microphone a few times during recording, and there was no compression on the input. You may hear the louder spots of the track and set the vocals at a good balanced level at first. Now, during mixing you have just added a bit of compression to the vocal track to bring down those few louder spots. The vocal track may need to be leveled up a bit because it now lies on the "quieter" side of the balance you had because the "louder" spots have been turned down. It is a good idea to always check the tracks in the mix after adding any effects to them. Also, some effects are set up to add gain automatically. You may need to check the output level of an effect, and make sure it is not adding gain by default.
It is a good idea to make equalizer adjustments to tracks while you are listening to the whole mix together, especially drums. They call it a mix for a reason, because everything must "mix" together as a whole. If you solo out every track and process them only singled out, each track may be way out of balance as they relate to eachother. This is especially true when mixing the live drums. If one of the tracks is significantly brighter than the others, it will never rest with the other tracks no matter how you adjust the volumes.
More tips and suggestions coming soon, good luck on your projects.