by Stephanie L. Carlin
Okay. I’ll be honest, Groovers. When I first came to Berklee, the only experience I had with music tech and engineering was running sound for high school productions and that one time my elementary school teacher let us use Garageband. Now, I’ve run Pro Tools for recordings and projects, I’ve used Logic more than I’ve written with a pen, and I know what an oscillator is. Do you know what an oscillator is? If not, no worries because today I’m going to show you. Whether you’re planning to record a new single or want to perfect the sound of your live performance, I’m here to help save you some time and possibly money in making yourself sound as amazing as possible.
A Little Acoustics Lesson
Every room, space, location or otherwise has thousands of different frequencies floating around. Some have the bristling of wheat against grass on a summer’s day, with birds chirping and a dog barking to get the sheep back into the barn. Some have just the hum of an A/C and the bubbling of tea in a cup as one curls up to watch a movie.
And other have loud cars and annoying screams of teenagers because we live in a city.
These uncontrollable sights and sounds affect every performance and should be taken into consideration when recording. Depending upon the aesthetic, not many performers are going to choose to perform with their three-man band in an open field versus a concert hall. It’s the way that these frequencies bounce against walls and into listeners’ ears that allows them to fully appreciate the music. Are they going to understand why? It’s unlikely, but they’ll still enjoy themselves in the perfect space for listening to music.
Get Friendly with the Mic
Whether it’s a live performance or a recording, getting close to the microphone will optimize your performance. While all microphones have a range and can pick up just about anything, if you’re not singing very loud, it may not be able to pick you up. This is especially true with recordings because if you sing too far away, the recording is going to stick at a lower decibel level, meaning no matter how many effects are on it, you’re going to be drowned out. So, try to get as close as possible, especially if it’s a less expensive microphone.
As a side note, the only time where it’s appropriate to sing a little far away is when you’re getting loud, and I mean LOUD, because the microphone might not be able to take the extra levels.
Reverb is Key (for just about everyone)
Reverb is short for reverberations which are the sound reflections of a room or hall that give a feel for the space the sound is in. If you’re in a bedroom, chances are you’re not going to get as much reverb as a cathedral or concert hall. Just because you’re in your room doesn’t mean you can’t add reverb to your recording. Reverb is typically used in pop to give the vocals and instruments an extra punch and make them appear as big as possible. Now, if you’re a drummer or a bassist, you really don’t want to apply reverb to all of your drums because the kick needs to be as steady as possible to maintain it’s position as the backbone of the song.
Different Microphones Have Different Sounds
A Shure microphone is different from an industry standard. There are many different kinds of microphones that one can get before coming to Berklee, but it’s important to note that there are better microphones than these. Sure, a Shure is the classic microphone for vocalists, but have you ever wondered what it would be like to sing on an Audix or an Earthworks? The reason these microphones cost more is because they’re engineered more carefully to provide a more filtered, clean sound. Ultimately, it depends on your budget. For recording, I’d look into something that isn’t your performance microphone.
If you want to hear the comparisons of other microphones for yourself, check out this video by Canadian music producer Andrew Huang.
Make The Equalizer Work For You
This is in Logic but you’ll find Equalizers (EQ) in every DAW out there. It’s used to filter out unwanted frequencies and bring out wanted ones. As to how it works, we’ll say the line across is zero and the circles above are the different frequency ranges you can alter from lowest to highest. As you go up, the frequency you’ve selected will get louder and louder while going down will do the opposite. The person in the picture has eliminated the lower frequencies and raised some of the higher ones. This technique is good for vocals and drums because it gets rid of the rubble that might take the listener out of the song. There are many ways to use EQ to alter a recording, but I’d recommend this technique if you want to keep it simple.
Try Producing Yourself!
You already have to do this for Intro to Music Technology. Why not try to do it on your own time? It couldn’t hurt to play around and after all, as a performer, we still make music. Why not make some more?