When I was being trained as a fledgling engineer way back in the early ‘80’s, there were a few simple rules I was taught that I still adhere to today. Although I started in the days of pure analogue, a lot of these ideas are still important in today’s digital world.
Firstly, watch your levels! It’s extremely easy to over cook a signal when your recording and once it’s distorted, it remains distorted. I get sent a lot of projects to mix and it’s surprising how often the lead vocal or bass is clipping.
Keep your mic pre amp down to give yourself some head room. You can boost the output with the gain make up on a compressor if it’s a bit low. Also watch the singer or instrument isn’t overloading the microphone at source. Easy to do, but also easily remedied with a pad on the mic. Again, with vocals, don’t over compress to disk (or tape). You cannot undo it. You can monitor or mix with as much compression as you like, safe in the knowledge that your source signal is pure and full of dynamics if you need them.
Speaking of bass guitar, another bane of my life is people not understanding the purpose of a DI signal. The best way to record the DI signal is before the FX. In other words, come from the bass guitar into the DI box, out of the DI box and then into your amp or FX boxes. The point being that the DI signal which feeds from the DI box to disk is free from distortion or whatever you like to play through and can be treated later if required. For me an affected DI signal is next to useless. Remember, you don’t have to actually use the DI sound, but it’s damned handy to have as a safety net if you need it later on.
Another thing that’s useful, when you’re recording a drum kit, if you have the chance, stick a mic on the poor old ride cymbal. I cannot remember how many times I’ve been asked in a mix to raise the ride up a bit only to have to push all the cymbals up to get the desired level and creating a wash of cymbals all over the mix. (Cue massive fight between drummer, producer and band……! Ha ha!)
Probably the most important thing when producing a project is don’t over complicate your recording. By this I mean, make a decision! For example, if your in the lucky position to be able to multi mic a guitar amplifier, don’t leave the mics on separate tracks, set the blend of signals that you like and record them together to one track. If you’re really not sure you’ve made the right blend, you can always record them on separate tracks, bounce them together and then hide the original tracks. Trust me, the fewer tracks you have to mix together, the easier your final mix will be. Some of the most successful songs I’ve produced have had the least amount of overdubs. Why have twenty tracks of guitars when three will do just fine! Remember, it’s not necessary to double track EVERY guitar part!
Again, sometimes it can be worth recording a DI signal from the guitar (pre amplifier and FX as discussed earlier) to keep stashed away, but there if you need to re-amp the signal later. Hopefully though, your guitar amp sounds will be so awesome you won’t need to!
There are lots of little tricks and tips that I hope to be able to pass on to you in the coming months. I hope they’ll be useful for you and perhaps they’ll make your recordings that little bit simpler with a better end result.
About Chris Sheldon
Veteran producer Chris Sheldon has been at the helm of great music projects for over twenty years. In a career spanning three decades of music history, he has produced and mixed records for everyone from rock royalty such as the Pixies, Foo Fighters, Garbage, and Feeder.
Chris got his start in music playing drums for local punk bands around Surrey. Soon enough he started working for Utopia Studios in London, gaining vital experience and gradually working his way up to in-house engineer. During this time he handled engineering duties for a number of high profile artists from Dead or Alive to Roger Waters of Pink Floyd.
It was not long before he decided to strike out on his own, leaving Utopia Studios to make a name for himself as a freelance engineer and producer, and became a sought-after name for artists and studios the world over. Over the years he has built up a formidable résumé, working for legendary bands like Radiohead, Biffy Clyro, Therapy?, Feeder, Idlewild, Skunk Anansie, Anthrax, Oceansize, and My Vitriol.
In 2015, Chris is as busy as ever, and with an ever-growing list of high-profile artists and musicians he continues to demonstrate exactly why it is that he is one of the go-to production minds in rock music.