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how to get a crystal clear recording
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DRMS4LYFE
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#1
16th April 2011
Old 16th April 2011
  #1
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how to get a crystal clear recording

Hey fellow slutz...I once stumbled on a thread about the topic I'm about to touch, but for the life of me I can't find it now. If anyone knows where I can find the thread I'd really appreciate it.

Now that I've said that, heres my predicament. On every professional recording I listen to the sound is so crystal clear and transparent...Indeed I've heard some of your mixes here on the forums and you guys get that clear "record" like sound. So how is it done? I understand that EQ plays a role in it, but is that seriously it? I must be missing something here, because all of my mixes sound for lack of a better word, dull, and not muddy, but something like that (if I'm making sense, I don't know) hopefully you understand what I mean. The mix itself doesn't sound bad. I mean if I play it without playing anything before hand it sounds fine. When I show the mixes to other people they say it sounds clear. But when I A/B it to a professional mi is just doesn't have the sparkle, or zest. If someone could give me some pointers or point me in a direction where I could learn more about this I would greatly appreciate it! Thanks!
#2
16th April 2011
Old 16th April 2011
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how to get a crystal clear recording

Experience.
#3
16th April 2011
Old 16th April 2011
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budget
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#4
16th April 2011
Old 16th April 2011
  #4
ndv
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Practice, experience, practice . . . and good monitors
#5
17th April 2011
Old 17th April 2011
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"How do I get to Carnegie Hall?"
#6
17th April 2011
Old 17th April 2011
  #6
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Assuming all else is equal, experience, budget, signal chain, ect....

Mastering by an experienced engineer can put a bit of sheen on your mixes.

I'm not sure that monitoring is the problem, if you can already hear the difference between your work and pro releases on the same speakers, then improving your monitoring isn't going to fix this problem. If you hear the difference only when taking your work elsewhere to be played back, then I would definitely say your monitoring situation needs some help. You can't mix what you can't hear...
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#7
17th April 2011
Old 17th April 2011
  #7
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Takes expensive mics as well and good preamps.
#8
17th April 2011
Old 17th April 2011
  #8
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I think we all know where this thread is headed...
Good players
Great instruments
High end microphony and signal chain
A mix engineer that knows what he's doing
A mastering engineer that doesn't eff it up
practice
trained ears
good monitoring
It's all about the engineer/performance/instrument/room
Neve, API, Great River, SSL, Neumann blah blah blah

more of that is certainly on it's way, per the typical answers around here.

In the case of the specific questions asked by the op, the answer really is better gear, in the aggregate. Greater fidelity trickles down the signal chain, one high quality piece at a time. It's not just one great mic, or a high end preamp.
That's not to say the other stuff isn't important, but put a great mic in front of a sound source and hook it up to great gear, and no matter the engineer, it will sound "better" than a 58 with a mackie. Placement over choice, sure. That's b.s.
The difference you are hearing is the icing on the cake that comes from heavy financial investment in the entire chain, and attention to the details of preserving signal integrity.

Indeed, the gear does make a difference.
#9
20th April 2011
Old 20th April 2011
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DRMS4LYFE View Post
Hey fellow slutz...I once stumbled on a thread about the topic I'm about to touch, but for the life of me I can't find it now. If anyone knows where I can find the thread I'd really appreciate it.

Now that I've said that, heres my predicament. On every professional recording I listen to the sound is so crystal clear and transparent...Indeed I've heard some of your mixes here on the forums and you guys get that clear "record" like sound. So how is it done? I understand that EQ plays a role in it, but is that seriously it? I must be missing something here, because all of my mixes sound for lack of a better word, dull, and not muddy, but something like that (if I'm making sense, I don't know) hopefully you understand what I mean. The mix itself doesn't sound bad. I mean if I play it without playing anything before hand it sounds fine. When I show the mixes to other people they say it sounds clear. But when I A/B it to a professional mi is just doesn't have the sparkle, or zest. If someone could give me some pointers or point me in a direction where I could learn more about this I would greatly appreciate it! Thanks!
Its very much in the hands of the mixing engineer. A really good one can take very mediocre sounding raw tracks and turn them into something great, and turn great tracks into something magical. Lot of practice. thumbsup
#10
20th April 2011
Old 20th April 2011
  #10
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C'mon guys.. you can do better than that..

"Experience" is a weak response.
Sure it's part of it, but give the guy a little direction.

Asking how make it sparkle is a general question, but if you don't know much about the process, how else would one ask?

How about offering some references or good exercises to get him started.

The only reason I'm posting is because I'm in the same boat as OP.
All we want is a little direction.

My offerings to op is having a really good clean recording, lots of detail on your tracks like cutting out sounds between takes, fading your regions, and playing with lots of different types of compressions.

Take a clean vocal track for instance, experiment with two different compressions at the same time. Vary the strengths on each to you hit the money spot.

Also, I just started reading this Amazon.com: Mixing Audio: Concepts, Practices and Tools (9780240520681): Roey Izhaki: Books

so far it's pretty awesome.

Good luck!
#11
20th April 2011
Old 20th April 2011
  #11
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Although all aspects of recording make a difference in the final product I think the most important things are

1. Quality instruments/musicians/performances
2. Quality room (big or small, just has to sound good)
3. Quality mics and pres
4. Quality A/D.
5. Editing tracks and comps to be clean and smooth flowing

Sure the mixing and mastering engineers take the recordings up to the next levels, but if you don't start off with great sounds, you won't end up with the greatest sounding final product.

There's something to be said when you can take raw tracks and push up the faders and it already sounds mixed.


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#12
22nd April 2011
Old 22nd April 2011
  #12
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I've been trying to achieve this too. A vocal track that will just pop over the instrumental track crystal clear and every word is understandable, instead I have decent (at best) vocal tracks, no matter how many times/ways/distance I record the vocal track. My noise gate just clamps to fast or not fast enough, my eq settings are OK to bring my vocals a crisp sound (at4047 sounds dull no eq) but then theres slight background noise, if with out the noise gate, but still creeps in. Ugh. I guess that's the best you can get thought with a AT4047 & a M-audio mobile Pre. I would like to know some hints to maybe achieve a better recording.

I seen YouTube tutorials videos where they just play an acapella vocal track and it's complete silence and the vocals pop in so crisp and clear and everyword is understandable even with out compressor, and the vocal wave track is real small.

Could be I mix tracks, as loud as most finalized mastered tracks, and I'm fighting to over power an already too loud beat. Usually to hear my vocals right on a track it's already red lining @ +6 on the master fader.... Ugh I'm just venting and am really envious of people who can just jump into a studio and just half ass there verse and it sounds so crisp and clear with no effort. Help us! Lol

Sorry with the story
#13
22nd April 2011
Old 22nd April 2011
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paeak View Post
I've been trying to achieve this too. A vocal track that will just pop over the instrumental track crystal clear and every word is understandable, instead I have decent (at best) vocal tracks, no matter how many times/ways/distance I record the vocal track. My noise gate just clamps to fast or not fast enough, my eq settings are OK to bring my vocals a crisp sound (at4047 sounds dull no eq) but then theres slight background noise, if with out the noise gate, but still creeps in. Ugh. I guess that's the best you can get thought with a AT4047 & a M-audio mobile Pre. I would like to know some hints to maybe achieve a better recording.

I seen YouTube tutorials videos where they just play an acapella vocal track and it's complete silence and the vocals pop in so crisp and clear and everyword is understandable even with out compressor, and the vocal wave track is real small.

Could be I mix tracks, as loud as most finalized mastered tracks, and I'm fighting to over power an already too loud beat. Usually to hear my vocals right on a track it's already red lining @ +6 on the master fader.... Ugh I'm just venting and am really envious of people who can just jump into a studio and just half ass there verse and it sounds so crisp and clear with no effort. Help us! Lol

Sorry with the story
Dont mix with your stuff as loud as finalized mastered tracks. Your making a mix track, not a master track.
Redlining is bad. VERY BAD. Never do that. EVER.
That should get you started with getting a better recording.
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#14
22nd April 2011
Old 22nd April 2011
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paeak View Post
I've been trying to achieve this too. A vocal track that will just pop over the instrumental track crystal clear and every word is understandable, instead I have decent (at best) vocal tracks, no matter how many times/ways/distance I record the vocal track. My noise gate just clamps to fast or not fast enough, my eq settings are OK to bring my vocals a crisp sound (at4047 sounds dull no eq) but then theres slight background noise, if with out the noise gate, but still creeps in. Ugh. I guess that's the best you can get thought with a AT4047 & a M-audio mobile Pre. I would like to know some hints to maybe achieve a better recording.

I seen YouTube tutorials videos where they just play an acapella vocal track and it's complete silence and the vocals pop in so crisp and clear and everyword is understandable even with out compressor, and the vocal wave track is real small.

Could be I mix tracks, as loud as most finalized mastered tracks, and I'm fighting to over power an already too loud beat. Usually to hear my vocals right on a track it's already red lining @ +6 on the master fader.... Ugh I'm just venting and am really envious of people who can just jump into a studio and just half ass there verse and it sounds so crisp and clear with no effort. Help us! Lol

Sorry with the story
Here's a couple of suggestions for getting better vocal tracks:
Lose the noise gate. You'll mess with it all day and still probably never get it just right. Instead, solo your vocal track and surgically cut the silence between phrases, applying short (~10 to 20ms) fades. Pay attention to the consonants at the beginning and end of each phrase, they're easy to cut off if you aren't careful and just go by the look of the waveform. That's why I suggested soloing the vocal while you do this. Also, depending on the tune, you may or may not choose to leave the breath sounds in before a particularly passionate section. Use good judgement here.

Now that we've cleaned up the vocal track, it's time to give it some legs to stand on.

Instead of just clamping down on the track with your favorite compressor, try using two or more in series. Shave a little more off with each successive comp, rather than relying on one plug or hardware comp to do the whole job.
Sometimes you need to just do it the old fashioned way, and ride the fader. This could mean using an analog console or your DAW's automation, either way, YOU are the compressor. Watch the waveform on the screen to see what's coming, and follow along as you make an automation pass. This same technique can be used on the front end, as you record your track. Get one rough take, and then ride the gain just as I described for automation, while watching the waveform of the rough to get an idea of what's ahead. This will take some more practice to get just right, and can ruin an otherwise great vocal take if you don't have a steady hand. Automating or riding the vocal fader can really bring out the detail in a vocal performance.

The amplitude, or size of the waveform, has little to do with how a vocal track sits in the mix. If you are red lining your meters, you're out of headroom (obviously). Bring the levels of all of your tracks down, and turn up your monitors. There is really no reason to record or mix anywhere near digital zero. If you're recording at a bit depth of 24, you've got a theoretical 144dB of dynamic range available to you. What's 12 or 16dB? Leave some room to breathe.

When I approach a mix that I did not track, I like to bring down the levels of all of the tracks with a trim plugin, or the trim knob on my console, so I have 12-16dB of headroom. On a typical green/yellow/red meter, I want them just tickling the yellow. If you're still pounding the master bus, bring them down some more, and turn up your monitors further.
It may help to calibrate your monitor volume settings if you are often running out of headroom. For instance, using an SPL meter ($50 at radioshack works nicely), I have my monitors set to 93dBspl when playing pink noise generated at -16dB in my daw. This means that when the master bus output is -16dBv, the monitors are at 93dBspl. No matter how hot I run my tracks, it will be painful to listen to before it clips anything. I can completely ignore my master meter with confidence that it won't clip. If you allow proper headroom in your mix, you can crank the vocals far more than you probably want to, without maxing out the sub or master busses.

You mentioned EQ....
I prefer to approach vocal EQ with caution and restraint. If it's clarity you need, go the subtractive route first to clear out some of the muck in the low mids, then bump up the fader. If you need some more air, maybe give a very slight shelving boost above 10k. By slight, I mean less than 3dB. This is easy to overdo. Sometimes I will boost a dB or two in the presence range, with a fairly wide Q. Of course this is all to taste, as appropriate for the song you are working on.
If your vocal sounds great solo'd, but disappears in the mix, maybe more volume isn't the answer... maybe eq'ing the vocal isn't the right answer either... perhaps you need to carve out a spot in your mix for the vocal to sit in. Sometimes I'll subgroup the instruments that are in or around the vocal range, and apply eq to gently pull down the 2k-8k range a smidge. Again, with a wide Q. We're just nudging those other things out of the way to make room here. Nothing extreme.

Many of these principles can be applied to more than just the vocal track.

Of course, a great signal chain will go a long way too, like I said, gear matters. But don't let that discourage you. Being able to do the things I described are why they say it's the engineer, not the gear that's important.
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#15
24th April 2011
Old 24th April 2011
  #15
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Great post, thank you!
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