“It doesn’t have to be the absolute best, I just want a good, clean-sounding recording.”
I feel you, brother (or sister). I know you don’t want to get bogged down in recording nerdery. And you don’t want to spend any more time or money than is absolutely necessary either. But you probably shouldn’t lead off with that line. In fact, that statement pretty much guarantees you’ll be getting the bare minimum from your engineer. Knowledge is power, so here are five keys that you should know that will help you achieve your recording goals!
Talk with your engineer in advance. The engineer can give you a good idea about how much time certain approaches will require, what the payoff will be, and whether it’s worth it given your intended audience. Developing a plan ahead of time reduces stress and gets everyone on the same page.
2. Player Position/Mic Position
Let’s assume you have a trusted pair of ears (like the engineer or your private teacher) helping you. Take advantage of the lack of an audience. Move around the stage and see if there is a place where everyone agrees you sound the best. Rooms often have “sweet spots” that may not always be right where you’d stand for a concert. Likewise, try repositioning mics on a stand and see if you can find a sweet spot for them as well. Conduct A/B comparisons between different placements and look for the best possible sound.
If you are fortunate enough to have the time AND the equipment, audition different microphones. No two microphones hear exactly the same thing, and while position is usually a bigger deal than mic choice, the choice of microphone shouldn’t be completely ignored. The engineer can be very useful in narrowing down the mics to audition if you give him or her an idea of how you’d like the microphone to sound (e.g. fatter, warmer, brighter, darker, bigger, scooped etc).
In some cases (such as contests or auditions) editing may not be permissible. But if it is, enter the session with a plan for how editing will be done. Will you just record several takes and then pick the best one? Will you piece the takes together to create a “super take”? Or will you fix problem spots one by one inside your keeper take? How will the bleed from other instruments (your accompanist) affect your editing plans? Iron all this out BEFORE the session even starts!
5. Post Production
After you get your performance down the way you want it, consider a little post production dress-up. Setting volume levels, ambience and general tonal character can often put a nice bow on the top of your project. For extra critical projects it is not unusual for multiple mixes to be burned to CD, listened to over a variety of playback systems, and remixed based on those observations.
In recording, as with most other things, higher quality doesn’t often come quick and easy. But the difference that a little focused effort makes is usually pretty impressive!