LeafRecording Tips --
For The Beginner

Sooo--- you're all excited, about to have your first recording session as an engineer. Great! Wish I were able to be there to help. Since I'm not (kell dough mahj), I thought I'd just jot down a few thoughts and tips, although you may have already learned some of them.

Assuming you'll be using a directional mike (a Cardiac pattern, which has a "hearty sound", for example):
  • Put the "talent" in the FRONT of the mike for normal recording.
  • Put the "talent" in the BACK of the mike only for backups.

If you have an Army-directional mike (why they're credited to the Army no one can tell, and you're not supposed to ask), which picks up both front and back (also all around, unlike ribbon mikes, which are only bi-saxual), you can do the recording and backup at the same time. This is usually termed "Bi-Sax-o-Mode", in honor of the American Bison, and Adolf Sax, inventor of the Saxophone and Saxbut.

The mike should be neither too close, nor too far from the sound source. A simple formula often used by professionals to calculate the optimum distance to the source, D, is given by:

    D = 4.72 x 10^-3 x (2pi/SV)[sin(M/T) - cos(M/2T)] dM/dt 
        + e^[h(H'- H) sqrt(H/H')] x log (1/[SVT^2]) +/- msp


  • D = the desired distance in inches
  • H = height of the sound source in meters
  • H' = height of the mike in yards
  • V = max volume of the source in dBm
  • S = sensitivity of the mike in millivolts per dBm
  • T = mean temperature of the room in degrees Melvin
  • h = Plank's reasonably constant
  • M = arc tan (area of microphone diaphragm, in round mm)
  • and msp = mistake someplace, in watt-kilograms/hour.

The best microphone for an accordion is none. (This rule-of-thumb also applies to bagpipes and rappers.)

If you are recording onto tape, good maintenance practice would be to clean the tape head and path. Do not use peanut butter for this, even the "creamy" kind. Mustard, crazy glue, or mayonnaise are also poor choices (trust me), but in an emergency, Vodka on a Q-tip will work, especially if recording Russian music (hint: save some for yourself, but substitute an olive for the Q-tip.)

Usually it's preferable to put reverb on AFTER the solo tracks are recorded, as true reverb filters not only don't exist yet, but are unusually expensive, and difficult to abuse.

If you are recording onto the Hi-Fi tracks of a video deck, you may also wish to record the video feed that you monitor to observe if the talent behaves disrespectfully or slovenly. The tape can later be useful in preparing an MTV video... or blackmail.

If you are recording onto the Hi-Fi tracks of a video deck, you may also wish to turn on an air-conditioner near the "talent". The a/c will supply a white noise sound, to hide the AFM glitches in the Hi-Fi tracks. This is an example of the Masking Effect.

As the a/c gets louder, its masking effect may be measured via a "Signal to Noise Radio" and yardstick. These radios are portable, being battery powered. (The yardstick is also portable, but will need no batteries.)

CAUTION: do NOT wear a mask for a more pronounced masking effect. However, earplugs may be useful.

The "talent", however, can wear a mask, unless they are reading the part. In that case they're probably too professional for you to be recording anyway.

To the RIGHT is loud (only for rotary controls -- for sliders usually, it's UP).

Harmonic distortion is BAD. So is melodic, rhythmic, or contrapuntal. Usually the only effective remedy is to replace the "talent".

Check that no cables are plugged in backwards, or that an odd number of cables are connected together in series. This is called phase reversal.

Be sure the equipment is operating adequately, and the performer knows the music adequately. This phase is called rehearsal. (You may eventually outgrow this phase, as familiarity breeds contempt.)

NEVER plug the monitor speakers input into an AC outlet, even if you have a proper adapter cord. There are far better ways to test them (convenient spray cans are available.)

Be sure the sound passes through the cables, or at least very closely. If there is any signal leakage, you could damage your floor, especially while recording Acid Rock, Acid Jazz, or Grunge -- yechht!

Be sure the sound passes through the cables in the proper direction (note the arrows on the connectors or cord.) Otherwise, when a singer inhales, you will hear an exhale, and vice versa. This is as horrible as the worst possible vice: punning (and as you know, there is no vice versa.)

Do not wave at a performer unless seated. Good studio practice minimizes all Standing Waves.

Digital recording technology likes lots of digits. So keep all your digits busy while recording, moving faders and knobs and switches a lot. When your digits are happy, so is the master.

Reduce the oxygen in the air near all signal carrying copper wires, to keep them oxygen-free. Fire can be useful for this purpose, as it consumes most oxygen readily. (Summertime tip: pure silver wire only tarnishes, so you won't need combustion -- as long as silver polish is readily available.)

Keep the performers and yourself well supplied with caffeine and drugs. You need to perform at your best. The only amplifiers are not just in the rack. (But Mister Manners says: don't try this at home without the supervision of an adult/parent, preferably both.)

Don't place the mikes near the loudspeakers, unless one or the other of them is OFF, unconnected, or nearly so (the old "partially plugged-in ploy".) This can cause undesirable problems, of social and medical nature. However -- once your ears are fused, go right ahead.

To start a take, establish a safe recording level (your hardware store sells levels, which may help). Then place the tape or recording medium into RECORD, and signal the "talent" in an appropriate fashion: mallet, strobe light, firehose, whatever. (This is termed: Cue the Miracle, and is a definition of an Optimist.)

If the "talent" is a painter or mime, you may omit the first two steps. (Or move the mike in a LOT closer.)

If the "talent" is not very, you may omit all remaining steps. (Or move the mike further away -- for example to Block Island.)

Enhance the performer's crescendos by moving the fader up each time.

Enhance the performer's diminuendos by moving the fader down each time.

Variation, for extra points: do the OPPOSITE of the above, each time. Don't be too subtle about it, or you'll waste all your enhancements -- and what's the point of that?

There are TEN "dessies" in a Bel. Now you know. Note: the dB is metric, and you must pay a metric Scale. (Union musicians: pay the 12-tone Scale.)

The maximum level setting for a rock drummer is: 60 x their IQ/your IQ, in "dessies". If you wish yours to remain undisclosed, just calculate: their IQ/2, for a reasonable approximation.

If this is to be yet another heavy metal session, it might be desirable for all participants to bear in mind the subtleties and nuances of the "MILD" principle: "Make it loud, dammit!"

In these PC aware times, equality is a good thing. So be sure to use plenty of EQ. Make amusing and interesting patterns of ups and downs with the EQ, to make the recording more interesting. Or amusing.

When each TAKE is completed, stop the recording medium, and signal the performer (see suggested methods above) either to prepare to do it again, or not -- your choice and tolerance. Try to write something down on a piece of paper. A pep talk is often given here (so you can GIVE before a TAKE.)

Tell them it was great, except, perhaps, for a slight clumsiness when they passed out. Tell them you'll fix it in the mix. Tell them you're known as "MagicFingers" in the studio business. Tell them: "Stick with me, kid, and you'll wear diamonds!" Be sincere (but not too honest...) Smile a lot.

Don't despair, tapes & media can always be erased. (Be sure to tell this to the performers -- often.)

Just a few lessons learned during many years of studio experience. Hope it helps ;-)

(Copyright 1997 by Wendy Carlos)

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