Home Recording Made Simple
Just like choosing the right room and drum, pick microphones that most accurately capture what you hear in the room. There are a myriad of great sounding mikes available that won’t break the budget. For the bass/guitar amp I used an Audix i5, a dynamic mike similar to the Shure 57, only with some extra frequencies that the 57 doesn’t have.
I used only six mikes on the drums: AKG D112 (kick), Audix i5 (snare), Audix D2 (rack tom), Audix D4 (floor tom), and a match-pair of Audix SCX-25 condensers for the stereo overheads. Mike placement was standard. Because of track limitations, I didn’t use a separate hi-hat mike, like I normally do. Although there is usually enough hi-hat captured in the overheads, using a dedicated hi-hat mike allows for the imaging of the hi-hat left-to-right during mixing. For me, the perfect hi-hat mike is an Audix 1290. An additional track was used for Rabb’s SPD-S sample pad, as he uses lots of custom loops in his performances.
FIG. 2. A close look at the rack used for the Ten Finger Orchestra & Johnny Rabb session.
Microphone preamps are optional, as most recording hardware has some sort of built-in preamp. But it’s a good idea to have good-quality preamps in the signal path if you can afford it. A discussion on preamps is the topic of a future article, so I won’t go into depth here. My standby is an eight-channel preamp from True Audio Systems (it’s the red piece of gear in Fig. 2). Although it doesn’t add much character to the sound, it is sonically clean and versatile.
My studio uses the eight-channel Digi002 hardware from Digidesign (mounted below the preamp in Fig. 2). This is a clean, rock-solid piece of hardware and one of the most popular hardware interfaces for the home studio. Having only one 002, I’m limited to recording eight simultaneous tracks. Although it’s possible to play back and mix dozens of tracks at one time, having only eight input tracks available at a time is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in home recording, which means you have to carefully plan your microphone setup. If I had another 002, it would have been possible to record more simultaneous tracks, probably adding a dedicated hi-hat mike, and a second snare mike underneath the bottom head — both would have offered a little more flexibility during the mix.
This session was laid out as follows:
Input 1: Kick
Input 2: Snare
Input 3: Overhead Left*
Input 4: Overhead Right
Input 5: Rack Tom
Input 6: Floor Tom
Input 7: Roland SPD-S Sample Pad
Input 8: Bass/Guitar Amp
* Left and right are generally labeled according to the audience or listener’s perspective. This can be strange for drummers at first, as we always refer to left and right from the drummer’s perspective. Always note on the tracks which perspective you’re using. Recording Software. I’m a recent convert to Pro Tools. After using Mark of the Unicorn products for more than 20 years, the change was forced by most of my clients moving to Pro Tools. It works, sounds great, and is rock solid — very few crashes.
Enabling Paul Allen and Rabb to hear each other was simple. The Digi002 has a dedicated monitor out. This stereo mix was plugged into the headphone amp (in the rack below the Digi002), and two 50' headphone extension cables were run with the mike cables down to where they were playing. Although the cue mixes were identical, the headphone amp allowed for individual control over cue volumes (up to four).
FIG. 3. It’s a good idea to select the worst sounding room for your control room in order to save the best rooms for tracking.
To get the players to hear me, I use a small mixer to mix together the cue mix and a mike in the control room (Fig. 3). When I need to talk to them I unmute the mike and talk — simple and functional. After It’s Recorded: Trust the “Force.” Mixing is part art, part science, and part religion. Take a class, read a book (or two), and spend lots of time observing a good engineer mixing tracks. But above all else, rely on your ears. When people hear a mix on a CD, few think about the process used to make it sound good. They just think that it sounds good.