March 31, 2008

MIDI on Linux!

MIDI on Linux! I love exclamation points! So... a buddy of mine, Jon Dehan created this presentation on using midi in Linux and I thought you might be interested.

Unlike Windows XP, Linux can get latencies down to 1 ms (0.01 seconds) which is much less than humans can perceive. And all without specialized hardware/drivers! This is on par with OSX, but linux is free, and so is most (if not all) of the software you'll need to get you midi system running.

It's very possible to get your midi synth/sampler running without spending a dime on software edit: or breaking copyright law *wink*.

Check out the presentation: Midi in LinuxLinux Midi

Here are a few of the important links:
Freewheeling | SoftSynths | LAUG

ps - don't worry... I'm still going to be doing that post on guitar recording with a DI.

March 29, 2008

B-Rig Guitar Technique... it's not what you think

You might think this post is about playing guitar... it's not. It's about recording a great sounding guitar with the B-Rig!

Which Microphone do I use?
  • For Acoustic Guitar - Use the Nady CM-88. Point it directly into the sound hole, and experiment with pointing it more toward the fretboard from there. For a more Hi-fi sound, use an MXL 990, if the guitar sounds too twangy/bright/trebly the the sm57.

    It's usually, depending on the guitar, a sliding scale:

    • Direct into the sound hole - deeper bigger sound, sounds scooped, less mids
    • Pointing toward the 12th fret - more even sound, less bass and more mids.
  • For Electric Guitar - Use the SM-57. between 3 inches and 2 feet away from the amp. There's another sliding scale here...
    • bright/trebly/fuzzy/hissy (on axis)- directly in the center of the speaker
    • dark/warm/bassy/muffled (off asix)- pointing at the very edge of the speaker, if the mic is close. If the mic is more than 1 foot away, just move it a little bit off the the side. just put you ear where the mic will be to see if it'll sound ok.

      Off axis more than 3 feet away:

There are three types of guitar tracks:
  1. Lead Guitar - Carries the melody or counter-melody of the song... at the very least... it plays some melodic and relatively important part of the song.
  2. Rhythm Guitar - falls to the background, or plays a supporting role to another part of the song that is clearly the melody/focus. Don't confuse riffs for lead parts (see: smoke on the water) - riffs are rhythm parts, but you can combine different lead and rhythm techniques in their case, more on that later.
  3. Ear Candy - This is a sub-citizen of the song, less important than almost every other track. Not to be made prominent in any way. It's those little things that can make the song though, they're very important, just less important than everything else.
For each type of guitar tracks there are suitable techniques for making them fit into the mix. Lucky for me it's the day of threes. There are three (main) techniques you can use on guitar tracks, each coupled with their own respective tracking methods.

1. Mono Panned - record in mono (duh)
2. Haas Effect - mono (creating stereo with the Haas effect)
3. Doubled - mono

Look at that, you only need one microphone! You may ask... why is everything in mono?

Well, you can try stereo microphone techniques (stereo pairs, etc) but generally one microphone will sound better than the other... so why use the one that sounds worse? don't. Stereo Miking is acceptable for acoustic guitar only.

If you're going to use more than one microphone on electric guitar... use them to compliment each other... not to create a stereo pair. For example: One mic 3 inches from the amp, and one 6 feet away to get a little natural reverb.

So about those techniques, Mono panned is pretty self explanatory; record in mono (just get one microphone to sound good and go with it), then pan the track to a suitable position in the mix. This technique works well for lead guitar... if it's the main thing going on... pan it just a little bit (5-15% either way). If there's something else equally important pan both opposite directions (10-25%). If it's a secondary attraction, 20-50%. For any kind of ear candy (less important extra parts that don't carry the song) pan 50-85%.

For the uninitiated...
Panning (v) - the act of moving a sound either to the left or the right, by making it quieter on one side and louder on the other.

I'm pretty sure every recording program you can find has a panning function (except windows sound recorder).

Haas effect is when you double a track by delaying it on one side... but I've already written a nice long description: Mono to Stereo, the Quest of Champions

Use Haas effect for acoustic guitars, sometimes clean guitar. Basically whenever you just can't get doubling the part to sound good.

Doubled guitar is recorded mono... but it's really stereo. It's pretty simple: record the same exact part twice and then pan one take (track) all the way left, and the other all the way right. The result is a nice wide stereo pair that still sounds like one performance. If you're recording distorted rhythm guitar this is the way to go.

I'll repeat that, if you're recording distorted guitar, your rhythm guitar parts must be doubled.

Here's a bonus for you. Use the Haas effect on doubled guitar. Once it sounds good doubled and panned hard left and hard right (all the way left/right) duplicate both tracks, pan them all the way to the other side, and apply the 20ms delay. it really smooths out those little differences between the two takes, and makes it EXTRA wide. Which is a very good thing. Especially good for riffs ;)

Speaking of riffs, doubled+haas is great for when it's the background... but when it's the main thing (usually at the beginning) record a third track and leave that panned center to help put the focus on the riff until the melody comes in.

Ok that's it for guitar, here's a cheat sheet:

Track TypeAcousticElectric (clean)Electric (distorted)
Haas, Doubled, or both
Haas, Doubled, or both
Doubled (+haas optional)
Mono Panned
Mono Panned
Mono Panned
Ear CandyCM88/MXL990
Mono Panned
Mono Panned
Mono Panned

Last but not least... ALWAYS USE A DI when you record electric guitar. This way you can do some re-amping once you've captured all those great performances. More on using a DI and re-amping next time. (Edit: DI Boxes: the magical guitar tone weapon)

March 23, 2008

Recording yourself on a budget

Today marks the beginning of my series on how to record an entire album yourself... for under $1000. But that's not all... it'll sound good too, as long as you're good, and your instruments are good, and the room you're in happens to sound good. Ok so it's not gonna be easy, but I really will let you in on lots of juicy studio secrets.

Here's what you'll need: the B-Rig...
  • Microphones:
    • 2 x Marshall MXL 990
    • 1 x Shure SM57
    • 1 x Nady cm-88
  • Microphone Accessories
    • 4 x Mic stands w/boom
    • 4 x XLR Microphone cables
    • 2 x Mic Preamps (Fast Track Pro has 2 preamps for a total of 4)
  • Listening Hardware
    • 1 x M-Audio StudioPro 3 Desktop Audio Monitors
    • 1 x Stereo RCA cable (for the StudioPro 3's)
    • 1 x AKG M 80 Studio Headphones
    • 1 x Headphone extension cable
  • Audio Interface
    • 1 x M-Audio Fast Track Pro
    • 1 x Steinberg Cubase
TOTAL: $977 (approx- I rounded each item up to the next dollar)

For the next few weeks I'm going to assume you have this set of hardware... I made a musician's friend wishlist of this stuff so you can verify the prices.

edit: One commenter mentioned using e-bay to get gear cheaper than musicians friend. It's true, you can get lots of this stuff cheaper on eBay. I'll admit it- I love ebay. The reason I don't reccomend ebay as the place to buy these items is there's no garuntee you'll be able to get them (or that you'll be able to get a given price). However you should try to snag better deals on eBay whenever possible. Just don't forget to check the seller ratings, I hate to see you guys get ripped off.

March 13, 2008

Mono to Stereo... the quest of champions!

This post will be short... it's just a little tutorial on how to make a track you recorded in mono (with 1 microphone) sound like stereo.

This is great for lots of things, especially those backgroundy tracks... you know...
  • Guitars
  • Drum Overhead mics
  • Backup vocals
  • Piano
Sometimes it's even better than actually recording it in stereo! Like with acoustic guitar.

Since the best sound comes from near the sound hole, there isn't a lot of space to put the mics. And even when you do get two mics in there, they generally sound the same... making it really hard to get a good stereo sound! Welcome Haas effect!

The Haas effect is the official name of the trick I'm about to explain... whatever. If you're feeling nerdy, just hit the wikipedia link (while you're at it why don't you build a robot and start a podcast too?)

There are a few times you should not do this trick:
  • Main melodic track - needs to be mono, and panned close to center
    • Lead vocals
    • Lead guitar
    • Lead anything really
  • Anything with a lot of bass... (Haas effect doesn't play nice with low frequencies)
    • Bass guitar
    • Upright Bass
    • Bass Drum
    • Bass anything really
  • Snare drum - I guess it's too important to be stereo, who knows?
Hooray for seemingly arbitrary rules! Woo hoo! Exclamation point! Lets get down to business! ok I'm done...

Here's how to do it in 3 easy steps:
  1. You make a copy of you mono track (so now you have 2 of the same thing).
  2. You pan one track all the way left, and the other all the way right. Now you have the same mono signal... just louder (since it's the same signal coming out of both speakers)
  3. Put a delay on one of the tracks, with a delay time somewhere in the range of 10ms - 25ms.
I know cubase can add this delay without any plug-ins which is nice (I'll post a picture tomorrow). In protools/others you can use a "slap-back" delay, or other short delay... just make sure there's no feedback, modulation, eq, etc.

Happy stereoizing mike!

© 2008 Jim Robert