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they'll let anyone in
secrets of the professional recording studio
by rob stark

Remember 15 years ago - before all this Internet and the digital revolution? It was a real achievement for a band to make a professional recording. Studio time was very expensive and decent home studio equipment cost too much for the average person to purchase. The average garage band was forced to save up money and practice their songs incessantly prior to heading into the studio for, what was for some, a once in a lifetime musical experience.

Now jump to 2000: Everyone and their mother is making a recording and posting it to mp3.com. You can now find a wide variety of professional quality digital recording devices for under $1500. Hell, you can even record multiple tracks on your computer with just a few extra cables and adapters. Burning CDs at home is becoming the norm!

Is this a good thing? It depends.

There are and will always be musical snobs. I am a musical snob on some levels. OK, I'm a musical snob on a lot of levels, especially when it comes to equipment. For example, you can have all the expensive recording equipment in the world, but if you're micing your crappy-ass Epiphone acoustic guitar with a crap microphone you picked up from Radio Shack for $19.99, it's going to sound like crap on the recording. I'm sure it sounded like crap when you picked it out at the store. And, most likely, it would sound like crap if Chet Atkins played it. Your fancy computer can't fix that, nerd boy.

So what's my point anyway? And what the hell do I know?

I've been recording myself and others since 1985, when I first discovered the four-track recorder. I was immediately hooked on it and all the crazy things I could make it do. I eventually upgraded to professional recording gear and now consider myself a pretty decent recording engineer. I don't use a protractor to align overhead drum mics, like some people I know, but I do ok. My Web site at duckonbike.com features some of the recordings I've done. I also broadcast a radio show from the site featuring live performances from bands. But I digress.

I've racked my brain and come up with a few pointers - suggestions if you will - for those currently recording or thinking about getting into it. Recording is an art form: There's no one way to do it and I learn something new every time I sit down in front of the board. Below are some of the things I've learned.

1. Buy at least one good mic. You will be amazed at the difference in your recordings. If you don't own at least one Shure SM-58 (about $100), you should unplug your recorder and put it back in the box. If you can afford it, pick up a decent condenser mic for vocals and acoustics. They're a little steep - starting at $500 or so, but you'll hear the difference.

2. Unless you're Boston, never record with chorus on an electric guitar. Just because your Midiverb has nine- zillion settings built in doesn't mean you have to use them.

3. Don't mix with headphones. Buy a set of set of good speakers or reference monitors. Headphone mixes are usually way too bassy, and you won't hear an accurate representation of the frequencies.

4. Be sensible with bouncing (ping-ponging) tracks. Billy Corgan be damned, do you really need that eighth guitar track? Remember, even the Beatles only used four tracks. Go for better quality sounding audio tracks over quantity.

5. Never, under any circumstances, use any musical equipment made by a non-drum company whose name starts with "P". Musicians know who I'm talking about.

6. If you have at least eight tracks, experiment with double tracking the vocals. This technique makes the main vocal sound full and covers up some performance mistakes.

7. Try recording in different parts of your house or apartment. You can get really cool sounding tracks recording vocals in your bathtub.

8. Only play American made guitars. God bless America, we still make better sounding instruments than anyone else.

9. Get one of those panty-hose-looking pop-stoppers for the vocal mic. It will prevent those "p" words from sounding like you dropped the mic during the recording, And they look cool.

10. Always wear black. You'll look better and people will think you know what you're doing.

Happy Recording!


Often mistaken for a successful airline pilot, Rob Stark can usually be found exactly one step ahead of fashion. He runs his own recording studio, produces and engineers many a fine record, holds dominion over duckonbike.com, and also plays various musical instruments, none of which begin with the letter "P". During down time, he can be found toiling away on the edge of technology for Interpath. One more thing, if Rob is holding a coke, rest assured it's a Crown and coke.

more about rob stark


beautiful day
rob stark takes you on a rocky journey - free mp3
by rob stark
topic: music
published: 12.30.99


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