Under construction/Work in progress
Please bear with me, what I have so far is a rough draft of an idea I had and started throwing ideas up. It will hopefully "evolve" into something more useful.
I would really like to encourage some more participation on the recording and collaborating front, so am going to attempt to offer some information in hopes it will help more people get started. I am really interested in input from others, discussion and ideas about methods people use. Theres several people doing some collaborations, hopefully we can get some tutorials from some of them on what they have learned.
It seems many of the people who have been posting here (in this group and the CB Nation as a whole) are using Audacity, some are posting content from their video recorders. Some are using video editing software to edit audio content pulled from those videos. I dont want to discourage anyone from using whatever they have found to work for them, I only wish to share what I have learned, and some things that have really helped me along in my understanding of digital recording.
Many of the tips I have may be based on different programs than what you are using, but since digital audio recording programs are very competitve, they have many common features and functions, just differing ways of accomplishing the same thing. You might be able to use the information and learn to do similar functions on any digital audio recording software, hopefully helping you in some way, the way it has helped me.
So without further delay, lets get started!
Getting the sound into your computer.
One of the biggest obstacles to recording along with other peoples music (Multitracking or "sound on sound" techniques) on your computer has got to be latency. This is the delay between what you hear and what you play, due to the time it takes to process and travel through the various routes in the computer. Using your onboard soundcard and mic input/ speaker or headphone outputs can have a delay of as much as about 250 Milliseconds (A quarter of a second) or so and cause bad out of synch recording and personally, disorientation. I tried to do it that way and even messed around some with time shifting the tracks afterward to correct for it. Very tedious and not much fun! So I came to the conclusion some kind of interface was going to be a mandatory upgrade. A relatively inexpense interface on a modern computer can get you easily into the 20 Ms range or less, which is barely detectable. And a lot more fun!
Because of these limitations I decided early on that a modest interface as an external sound card, combined with a mid-budget microphone would be something I wanted as a minimum for my intentions.
I watched and picked up a USB interface that had inputs for either 2 mics or one mic and one instrument, as well as midi input/output on sale for around $100. I still use it often as a portable solution with my laptop. but since then several other similar options have hit the market for even less.
The USB format isnt the perfect audiophile solution by any means, but can give you some pretty good results at a reasonable cost, and is a good starting point for learning.
Guitar or instrument:
Without getting into the specifics of the various concerns of magnetic vs. piezo issues, I would say that for the most part, in either case, the less effects in the input chain, the better the signal you will have to work with. Depending on your input method, you may find a pre-amp highly desireable with piezos. Note that they are often feedback prone with high gain or distortion effects.
No hard fast rules though, experiment!
Heres a discussion on hooking up to your computer you might find helpful!
Above I attempted to explain the limitations of using most on board sound cards. Some people will make do by trying to use them along with microphones intended for gamers, Skype or teleconferencing. I dont want to discourage experimentation, but the results of my experience show the on board sound card limitations combined with inexpensive mics or mics not intended for our use gave very poor results.
I have and use several condenser mics for recording instruments, dynamic mics for vocals and so forth. I would expect to spend a minimum of about $50 for anything suitable for our purposes. Shure MC57's and 58's are considered industry standards and desireable for their universal sound quality and durability. They go for about $100 each, not including cables, stands and so forth. If you watch for sales the major stores often offer about 20% off for these specifically or for purchases in this price range.
Some time ago I picked up a Samson Go-Mic for about $40, which uses a USB connection to go directly into the computer. Most serious studio engineers will scoff at a USB mic, but again, it serves its purpose for portability and compactness. In its case it is small enough to hide in one hand! I threw it in my laptop bag and use it occasionally to capture some sound samples and such. Last year I used it to record my dad strumming his acoustic and singing some old country songs, sounds great!
I found it to have virtually plug and play simplicity and very good sound. I quickly learned to get it away from my laptop so I didnt record its humming. In fact it needs to be isolated from it by not setting it on the same table too! I used it to record something a few nights ago as an unrelated experiment, and noticed I could hear the refrigerator hum two rooms away, the quiet crackle of fire in my wood stove, with my headphones on I can hear traffic sounds well outfront of my house! Its a pretty hot little mic!
It was during this little experiment the other night that I learned something else. I knew it has a headphone output, and had read that it could be used for low latency monitoring. I had assumed this meant it monitored input directly, I never previously considered it might allow monitoring the mix as I played along.....
Thats right. Low latency monitoring, no interface! Heres what I found. With the mic plugged in I went into my DAW preferences, and had the option of using my sound card speakers or the Samson USB mic as my output. When I went and armed a track for recording, I had the available option of the soundcard mic input, or the Samson mic as a source. Heres where it got weird. Usually when using an interface you select "monitor incoming signal." but when I selected that I got severe latency, as it apparently tryed to process the incoming signal from the mic through the DAW and then send it back to the mic's headphone output. But unchecking the "monitor incoming signal" selection eliminated the latency! The only drawback, is that you must monitor a "dry" mic signal, with none of the DAW's effects or processing, which is a manageable solution, though when playing guitar for example, playing with some effects can change the way you play somewhat. But it works!
I have since then seen a few other USB mics with headphone monitoring capabilitys. I saw an MXL outfit at Target' of all places last weekend that had a mic, headphones, cables and I believe it had a basic recording software too, (A "light" Cakewalk product maybe? I dont recall.) all for only about $70!
Effects, Multitracking, Mixing and working with sound files.
When I first started investigating my options on making the move to digital recording from analog (over a decade ago I guess), Audacity was a very basic no frills program. Garage Band was something in its infancy and of course Apple only. Of course I had dreams of a full blown Pro-Tools work station, both for the functions and because I felt the desire to learn the platform used by the big boys, but especially at that time it was prohibitively expensive. I eventually messed with a few demos, studied quite a bit and since have learned that you can have functions we only dreamed about just a few years ago in a very affordable package. As computer processor speeds and memory costs have improved, there has been a dramatic improvement at reasonable cost and the need for outboard gear has been reduced a great deal. Interfaces have also evolved and become a great deal more affordable, and begun to include more features as well.
I havent looked at current versions and dont really know what Audacity is capable of now. Garage Band has evolved into a pretty cool program, I especially like their attempts at making it collaboration friendly. Many of the other brands have come very far as well and are very affordable. In fact several have very nice free versions that have few limitations, often just limiting the number of tracks to say......eight or so!
The fact that a lot of this material is based on Acoustica Mixcraft is of course simply because that is what I am using. (and still learning!) But I am not in any way trying to push it, it just happens to be what I found to be the most "bang for the buck" at the time I made the purchase. If anyone is considering a purchase I would be glad to try to answer any questions I can, but I think some of these presentations speak for themselves, and just a note, a limited time demo is free. But I will warn you the time goes by fast and it wont likely allow you to touch the surface of what this program is capable of!
With that, lets just go right to a series of videos I found very helpful!
The two series near the bottom, mixing a song start to finish, and studio tips might be the place to start, many good tips here. Back up the list is a tutorial series on how to use Acoustica Mixcraft specifically, but again, I think that there is valuable information here that might help anyone using other software too.
If you have watched some 40+ video tutorials and you are still with me, kudos to your dedication!
At this time I would like to touch on a couple of things from the videos.
First, take note that in the digital audio workstation (DAW) environment, adding and changing effects dont change the original sound file in any way. The raw data is still there, so you can undo, redo, make changes to the effects parameters or even change the virtual order of the effects chain at will and as many times as you wish. Running multiple tracks, all with a chain of effects does however put a pretty good load on your processor as it is doing a lot of work at once. If it gets to be too much and cause problems however, most programs have ways to work around it. Mixcraft for example allows you to "freeze" tracks which basically does a virtual mixdown of the selected track, reducing the processing requirements while you work with other tracks.
Another thing to notice is the results of changing the effects chains order. Some orders sound much better than others. You may have noticed that a common basic order works out as Compression, then equalization, then anything else, such as modulation effects such as reverbs and delays.
If you watched Erics presentation on getting a good vocal recording you probably noticed his discussion on using hardware compression. I would like to take a moment to attempt to explain some reasons for this aproach.
Back in the days of recording on analog equipment onto tape, there was always an effort to "saturate" the tape with as strong a signal as possible, right below the thresholds of clipping and distortion in order to keep the signal to noise ratio as good as possible. The biggest problem was inherent tape hiss that made a fade to silent impossible, low sound level recording difficult at best and unfortunately often caused a great deal of headaches due to its accumulative effect in multiple tracks. The accomplishments of recording engineers of the time cant be overstated. The results of for instance the Beatles Sgt Pepper, done on four track equipment of the day is mind boggling to me.
One often assumes that with the advent of digital recording and its amazingly good signal to noise ratios, That this would no longer be an issue, but thats wrong. And this is where it gets complicated........
One common problem is that people run analog input levels too "hot" and dont leave the" headroom" required for getting good results in digital post production/mastering. It is an old habit to record at levels that are "just below" clipping. You want a good clean signal, not too low, but also not too high. Just below clipping is too high for optimum results. Needing to excessively "turn up" a signal that is recorded too low doesnt give good results either.
Another complication is the differences in terminology and specifications as we go from analog to the digital domain. Level meters on preamps and mixers on the analog side generally display in DBu, then on the digital side such as in your DAW the meter will display in peak RMS or DBrms, which is as luck has it completely different. So advise becomes confusing and of course causes much discussion and disagreement.
I am going to attempt to simplify it. Depending on your input chain, and equipment used, you may require some experimentation. Set your digital input level on whatever equipment you use in neutral or middle positions, no gain no reduction. Set the input gain on your preamp or interface, whatever controls your analog input signal as needed to get your digital meter to read on average around -18 DBrms. Well short of ever "clipping." This will seem low at first, but just set your monitor levels as needed to compensate. This will give you far less noise, less muddy results and noticeable more "roomy" and "airy" results. Done properly, mixdown will be easier and the end result of any multitracking or layering will end up coming out far cleaner, and you wont have to tweak levels in mixing and mastering to fight clipping and distortion. Hint: most analog to digital converters are "calibrated" to make a 0 DBu analog signal equal to a -18 DBrms signal. This is where your equipment is designed to function.
Here is some information on one good method that might make our efforts to collaborate tracks easier and more successful.
See "understanding synch tones" pt.1 and 2
Just a thought, a functional method could be nothing more than a count in, drumming on a piezo equipped CBG if you wish. Maybe we could call it the "Bemuzic count in".... :-)
I have found that along with the usual need to find the key to a track I want to play along with, sometimes the pitch of tracks arent quite as stated. Someone may post a track they say is in G for instance, and I find out its about a half step higher. I dont think its that the original track is recorded in a different pitch, but something happens, probably in the file compression scheme, that causes this.
Bottom line, you have to check your pitch against the track, tuning to a standard often isnt going to be quite right.
Ok so lets experiment!
If your like me, by now your head hurts. Theres a lot of stuff here. I tried to cover the basics on many fronts, to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. I hope you got something from it! Some of it might take a few reviews to really take advantage of. But this is supposed to be fun right?
Heres an idea I have been tossing around. I will post some backing tracks. (others are of course incouraged to do the same!) Each will be in its own "discussion group" You are free to use it as you wish. Practice to it, "jam tracks" can be a useful tool for learning many things from timing to style, or it can be just for fun. You can play it on your computer, burn it to CD, or a music player of whatever type, input it to your amp or just play along on your stereo device of choice. Import it to your recording software if you use one.If you like, record yourself playing along with it. It doesnt matter, audio, video, whatever form you want to use. It is free to use for non commercial/not for profit/personal use.
If you record along with the track and want to participate in some collaborating, or just record yourself playing along or whatever you have, Post a response in the thread and add your file by clicking on the UPLOAD FILES button at the bottom of the composition window when you reply!
Also of course, any input on making this work and fun to do is most welcome! I do suggest however that we try to keep the song project discussions on topic and discuss general recording discussions here in this thread (or start a new one if the subject warrants it)
One more suggestion. Since we dont want to get into issues of big files, slow downloads and having to use an outside server or something if possible, lets try use MP3 files if possible. It looks like theres a 7MB max file size limit anyway.
Also if you have the capability, it might be fun to have your track separate from the backing track, to further use by those with the capability to further play along with it, or slice/dice and mess around with!
So what ya'll think, anybody game?
*EDITED and REVISED: The previous sound file is moved to a new dedicated discussion. Go back to the CB Nation recording studio discussion index to find it and more.
I have added a couple more too. I have noticed the comments requesting some more "primitive" stuff to work with, so I will leave it at these for the moment and I will work on that! Also, give me some input, Solo drum tracks? Drum/bass and some kind of rythym guitar to play lead riffs to? White stripes/Black keys flavored stuff? Mix it up?
Mark, I finally got here, long walk. Now I will try to learn something
Thanks much, Joe.