The Art of Making Records By
The Art of Recording
live and breathe
music. I also play and sometimes record music as a hobbyist nowadays.
And yes, Ill admit it, back when I was a teenager I would have liked -
whom am I kidding, loved! - to make it in music as a . . . cough,
cough, clear throat . . . rock star, whatever that means! All kidding aside,
recorded music always fascinated me. How do you capture that sound into a medium
that will let you listen and relive that experience over and over again?
Recording was for the very few a few years ago, but with the advent of technology
and social changes that increased access to the music gear and at an affordable
cost, that has changed drastically. Finally, the hoi polloi can experience recording
in a way that no one thought possible.
I spend quite a bit of time messing with it and reading countless
books, trying countless tricks, spending countless hours online looking for
the best tips, even considering a recording school, yet whatever I record ends
up sounding like a cheap demo (like a lot of DIY CDs out there nowadays - I
guess one negative consequence of the liberation of recording technology).
So, youve written a couple of songs youd love to share with your
family and friends (and who knows, the whole world perhaps). Does your recording
have to . . . suck?
Absolutely not!!! said Ronan. We had met a few months back at a
mutual friends get-together and we started chatting about all this. Come
down to my studio one day, he said, his eyes glowing with confidence,
and Ill show you how to get the sound you have in your head.
I was intrigued to say the least! Recording is simple, he said,
and I promised that I would take him up on his offer one of these days.
Ronan (Ronan Chris Murphy is his full name) has been making records for a long
time. He has worked on hundreds of records with artists like: King Crimson,
Terry Bozzio, Steve Morse, and Tony Levin, to name a few, plus he runs his own
small hub of creativity called Veneto West Records where he produces and records
artists, including his own work, who will definitely deserve a place in avant
prog heaven. So he must know something, right? I figured Id take him up
on his offer and go down to the studio. It took about three minutes, literally,
for me to put to tape (just an expression these days - put to hard disc is more
like it!) a guitar sound I was after for years! I was definitely impressed.
And thats just the beginning, Ronan said and invited me to
join a class he teaches every so often. Absolutely, I said. This
Six Days at the Home Recording Bootcamp - Before the sound hits the mic
nter the Home Recording
Bootcamp - Ronans intensive six days of living and breathing recording
with him and a wide array of guests from star engineers like John Rodd to music
recording gear manufacturers like Peter Montessi of A-Designs, and Dave Pearlman
of Pearlman Mics. Five to six students max, starting at ten o clock in
the morning and ending at seven or later usually in the evening. All recording,
all the time! Here we go.
The first thing that has become so clear to me now is that recording and making
records is an art as much as it is science. However, it is really simple, as
Ronan mentioned. 85 per cent of what one needs to know about making records
can be discussed in three minutes, says Ronan. It all starts with
finding a sound worth recording, placing a microphone in front of where the
sound comes out from (well talk about recording direct
meaning without a mic in the next part of the series), running the low
level signal produced by the microphone through a mic cable into a mic preamp
to get it up to line level (meaning the signal level the recorded can understand
and work with), and then taking that into your recording medium analog
or digital (4-track, Pro-Tools, Logic, Sonar, etc.) Now the only things you
need to do are figure out if you want the sound loud or quiet and if you want
it to be coming out of the left, the right, or both speakers (were only
going to mention standard stereo recording here, but pretty much the same applies
for 5.1 surround recording). Thats it. Pretty simple, huh? Theres
a lot of hype out there about complicated gear of all sorts that adds to the
confusion and takes away from the simplicity of it. But again, its really
simple! Inspiration, to expression through a song, to honing your skill as a
musician, to the instrument you use, to the mic, through the cable, to the mic
preamp, into the recording medium.
Having said that the next obvious question would be well, how do I get
that sound thats in my head into the recorder then? First,
listen and evaluate says Ronan. Put on your favorite CDs and LISTEN.
And make sure you throw away any preconceived notions about what something is
supposed to sound. For example, vocals are supposed to be clean (no distortion),
rock records should have a lot of low end (bass), etc. Ronan explains: many
of the records we grew up with and love might not be what you thought they were.
For example, in Rod Stewarts Maggie May the vocal is distorted,
and early Black Sabbath records have no low end! Keep in mind always that
the recording aesthetic changes, like the music changes. A lot of the
drum sounds are now replaced or enhanced by samples, theres
very little reverb on guitars and vocals, tone/pitch correction of vocalists
is almost standard (at least in popular music), and most pop records are compressed
to the limit. Theres no wrong or right really on how you approach
recording. Unless you really screw something up, like use a busted cable
or a faulty piece of gear says Ronan, everything you do, like how
far away you stand from the mic when singing or what mic you use, is a creative
Tune in next issue when well discuss microphone and direct recording techniques
for recording guitar, vocals, bass, keyboards, drums and percussion, and more.