The purpose of this and the next couple of post is to discuss the volume, pan, and equalization of the tracks in a mix. These are related – as you adjust one you may want to consider changing the other. For now though we will discuss them separately.
Mixing to get the sound that you want is not easy and so putting down some simple rules to guide you through the process is important. As always, these are my rules – yours may be different. You should do what sounds good to you. Hopefully though, my experience will help. Why a rock song? Because this is what I have experience with.
Recording vocals is difficult. It takes a lot of experimentation and the end result depends a lot on the vocal that you want to record. Every person’s vocal is different and different setups and mikes work for different people.
Here are some tips about recording electric and acoustic guitars. What I will write here is, of course, very subjective. The contemporary guitar is a very pronounced instrument and various people like various things. Nevertheless, here are some things that work well in general.
Recording drums right could use a set of 10-12 microphones and 10-12 separate tracks. Getting a full drum mike set with as many microphones and a mixer with as many tracks is not expensive nowadays. You can find a good drum mike set for as little as $200. Still though, it is possible to record drums with a lot less expense.
Our setup for bass recording is basic and we do not experiment much. This said, we definitely know that we want the bass to be heard and its melody understood. I would be happy with a song that takes only the bass, the vocals, one guitar, and some drums. That should be good enough if the bass can carry its weight. I like a bass that carries a complex melody throughout the song. I like when this melody is different than the melody of the rest of the instruments and when it complements the song without hindering other instruments.
The good soundcard is also a must for home recording. Standard soundcards that come with contemporary computers are not great. They do not have a good frequency response. They are not shielded. They do not have the necessary inputs. Unless you are recording only simple demos you should look for a better soundcard. There are many good soundcards and they all have various characteristics. Some characteristics are easy to explain and some are more complex. I will list some of the obvious ones: number and type of inputs, mixing consoles, and so on. I will skip esoteric ones such as signal-to-noise (S/N) ratio and analog-to-digital (A/D) conversion accuracy, as those will not help you in choosing the best sound – it is difficult to understand how those affect sound quality anyway.
I will write a few articles on our simple home studio set up – software, equipment, etc. Do not take these too seriously. For one, our studio is the end result of a long line of experiments, not all of which were successful. We bought a lot of equipment and software without too much information and we now know that there is better and cheaper gear out there. Also, you may be looking for a completely different kind of experience. Either way, here is a review of our software.
You probably already know that your room affects the quality of your home recording. Sound is airborne waves which are physical in nature and are thus affected by physical structures. Sound waves in rooms are affected by walls, floors, ceilings, curtains, furniture, televisions, light fixtures, and other. In short, anything that obstructs the path of the sound wave will alter it and will ultimately change the sound that our ears perceive. The end effect of this may be desired or undesired. Typically, since the human ear is used to hearing sound after such room resonances, those may make the sound appear more "natural" and "lively". This is why recording engineers artificially introduce room resonances in sound recordings through reverb units. Without them the recording will sound "dry" and unnatural. So why exactly are our room resonances problematic?
My first foray into reproduced music was as a listener. I enjoy listening to different types of music, and like most people I did not have much musical training as a child. I dabbled briefly with the saxophone and piano. While in college I was introduced to the joys of fine audio reproduction in the home, and it was a staggering difference from the middle fidelity reproduction that I had grown up with as a child listening to the radio and/or mass-market stereo systems.