Recording Part 2—Drums, Bass and Scratch Vocals
Recording—part 1 dealt with preproduction issues. Recording-part 2 will continue with the recording process by examining the beginning of the recording process, laying the groundwork. Great care should be taken to make sure the drums are set up properly before recording. Spending time at this stage will be invaluable if not completely necessary to getting excellent tracks and fewer headaches during mixing. Never plan to “Fix it in the mix”. Setting up the drum kit to record will involve tuning them, listening for any creaking, squeaking or noises that are not desirable and attending to ringing drums by applying a commercially available product such as—or taping a small piece of felt to the head of the drum. The kick drum should be dampened with a pillow or heavy blanket placed in the drum almost touching the beater head. Microphone placement is especially important so take the time to move the microphones around a bit to get the proper tone on each drum. The kick drum mike needs to placed on a short stand with a boom so that it goes completely inside the drum. This microphone should pick up the sound of the beater hitting the drumhead as well as the thud of the drum. Overheads should be placed about 3 to 4 feet above the kit and far enough apart so that there are no phase problems. The easiest way to check for phase problems is to flip the phase on one of the overhead microphones and listen as to whether the overall sound gets louder. If it does, that indicates a phase problem that is corrected by moving the microphones further apart. I like to record the whole kit except for the overheads with a bit of compression and pretty much flat eq. Proper microphone selection usually takes care of most eq situations. If at all possible, have the drummer play to a click track. This tightens up the rhythm and will allow for easier editing later if you should decide to add a verse or chorus or have to replace a part.
After setting up the kit for recording, the next step will involve setting up to record the bass. If the bassist is amenable, have him/her record either through a direct box or a recording appliance such as a Sansamp or a BassPod. If that won’t work, you’ll have to employ some separation by placing the bass rig in isolation of some sort. Your particular situation will dictate the solution. In some cases, the bass player will have to play a scratch track direct to the board and lay his final tracks down later. Paul McCartney always laid his bass tracks down last on all but the first few Beatles records because they only had 4 tracks to work with.
The scratch vocals can be recorded in the same room as the drums as long as the resulting track is intelligible. The purpose for the scratch vocal is to allow the rest of the band to know where they are in the song. It will be imperative to have the rhythm guitarist as well as any other instruments that contribute to the overall rhythm of the song play along even if their tracks are not recorded at this point.
Once everything is set up, have the band play through the song a couple of times to allow you to set levels. They will loosen up a bit and polish off any rough spots. Start by lowering the gain on everything. Then follow the following order:
1) Raise the levels on the outboard preamps until they clip and then back off
a bit (if you’re not using outboard preamps, skip this step).
2) Raise the trim levels on the audio interface until they clip and then back
off a bit
3) Raise or lower the input trim on the track you are recording to in order to prevent clipping.
Now you can start recording. Just remember, it is not going to sound mixed so don’t try to mix while you are recording and DON’T USE ANY EFFECTS WHILE TRACKING! What you’re striving for are tracks recorded at a high a level as possible without distortion. You can always add effects later but you can’t take them out. After the first couple of takes, go back and listen to what you’ve recorded. You’ll be able to some fine tuning and the band can relax a bit. Then get down to work and don’t stop until you’ve got the perfect take.
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