Get better sounding recordings, right now, without spending a cent. Whether you're recording on your phone, a USB microphone, or using a mic & interface combo, these tips will help you!
The most common issues I hear in non-professional recordings are room reflections, clipping, static noise, vocal pops, and unbalanced tone. In most cases, these are actually pretty easy to fix. Let's get on with it!
1. Stop Reflections
This is number one for a reason: almost no one thinks about it, it's the easiest thing to fix, and it makes a BIG difference. Basically when ever you make sound, it likes to bounce off of hard surfaces, and find its way back to you, and more importantly your microphone. We don't want this. We want the microphone to pick up the initial sound you make, and NOT any of these reflections that bounce back to you.
Fix this by putting soft materials between reflections and your microphone, we called this adding absorption (the thicker the better). Some common methods are:
• Put your mic between you and an open closet full of clothes • Build a blanket fort and record under it
• Have a foam mattress? Flip it up against a wall and perform towards it (I've done this!)
2. Check Your Recording Settings
This is debatably the easiest one on this list, and not often understood. These are the most important settings to check on your recording device
• Gain: This is NOT volume knob. YOU are the volume knob. Gain is the devices sensitivity. Be loud enough that your gain doesn't have to be super high. Turning the gain up introduces more electrical self-noise.
• Bit Depth: Record at 24 bits if you can! 16 bits is ok, but you will have a noticeably higher noise floor. The noise floor is basically built in noise that you can never get rid of with some post-processing. This one got me when I first started, but once I learned the difference my recordings instantly sounded more professional.
• Sample Rate: This should be 44.1k or higher and should match your software if you're recording into a DAW. If the rate is lower than 44.1k, you'll lose high frequencies. If the rates are mis-matched you could get digital clicks and pops.
3. Better Microphone Positions
Obviously point the front of your microphone at your sound source, duh. What else is there to do?
• Distance: Be 5-7 inches away from your mic. Too close and it will sound too bass-y, too far and it'll sound thin. Not being too close will also help prevent plosive pops!
•Placement: Different instruments and even vocalists will benefit from different mic placement. For example, a mic right in front of a vocalist sounds great! A mic right in front of a guitar's sound hole sounds awful.
I can't cover everything here, but generally speaking, try pointing your mic at your instrument, then moving it around in an arc until it sounds best (try up, down, left, and right!). Like, the moon orbiting Earth
4. Quiet Your Space
Another point that seems obvious, but worth repeating! Microphones tend to hear things differently than us. Our brains are great at tuning things out. You probably barely notice the air blowing through your vents, you're so used to it. Your microphone absolutely will notice it, however.
• Listen: Turn your recording device on and listen to what you hear through your mic. You'll probably hear your A/C or heating, maybe your computer fan, maybe jewelry shifting as you play an instrument or sing.
Identify these noise and try to minimize them.
5. Tune & Practice
Nothing makes a better recording than being in tune and performing confidently!
While it's good to be tuned up, don't forget to use your ears. A great piece of advice I was given a long time ago was "Don't just be in tune, but be in tune with your band". Meaning, you can be off key by a half step, but the whole band better be off by the same amount! It's most important that your elements are tuned to each other.
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