Sound recording and reproduction

DIY Album, Musicians' Diary

Your album isn’t ready yet + mind-mapping for self-produced album

I know that people don’t have any bad intention behind the question, and we musicians love to get questions about “how things are going”. Or at least, the intellectual side of me knows it.

I know sometimes people are just super exited to hear it. But how can you explain that there is no way it could be done quicker ? That going to the studio is just such a tiny wee(1)  little part of all what we do?

Who said again that a picture worth thousand word? 😉

your album is not ready yet
Your album is not ready yet? [click for HR image – it’s really large!]
Scary, hey ?

Although largely exhausted, I couldn’t sleep last night – maybe because we recorded until late one more ghosty gwerz that kept on haunting me (this one is about Yugoslavian wars, and is really painful to work on).

I suspected also that as the deadline is approaching (we’ll be leaving for next UK tour by the end of September), I’m probably also getting nervous about all that needs to be done. It’s not our first self-produced album for sure. But a few things add a bit of spice to the all adventure…

  • Music and technique-wise, our level of expectations has considerably raised. Mixing and blending the sounds together is part of our music, and thus takes much more time than for an acoustic project for instance.
  • Learning from previous launching campaigns, we want to get the best out of our release and try to plan ahead for a decent release impact – in a way, when we were younger, there were so many aspects we didn’t suspect that we were pretty relax about!
  • Instead of manufacturing 500 of pieces each time (and then eventually re-manufacture afterwards), we decided to invest on 1000 in one go, to save money, but then, we have to plan for when and WHERE we can get it delivered… and stored!
  • Since our activity is increasing (more touring, more sales, other projects), we have to switch to a decent legal status… and I wonder if this isn’t the most epic part of this particular release?
  • It’s the second album with Astrakan Project. I’ll write back about it, but well. It’s kind of an extra little source of pressure.

It kind of relieved me to get this end-less to-do-list organised in a visual way, kind of mind-mapping out things so that I don’t forget anything. And well, although it might look scary at first, it really helped me to see that a lot as been done, and also now, I know which part I was not paying enough attention too. The legal status part of course!

Back to work – our album isn’t released yet!

§ Simone

(1) wee=little if you haven’t spend some time in Scotland. And if you understood it, I want to play there! I want to go back to Scotland, if you have any place to suggest for next October, you’ll make my day!

DIY Album

Recording & mixing guitar : My own recipe

Even if there might be a perfect way to record electro-acoustic guitar and electric guitar, I assume mine is not perfect. Below I explain the way I recorded and mixed the acoustic and electric guitar on the album, with extremely cheap gear and stuff.

What I used for the recording itself :

  • USB soundcard (E-MU tracker pre, probably the cheapest one ever) with two Jack/XLR input and a stereo output for direct monitoring (i.e. without latency).
  • Headphones
  • Korg ToneWorks Pandora Box (a very cheap multi-effect device that I got from my guitar teacher Yann-Guirec Le Bars almost for free, some years ago)
The USB soundcard, the headphones and the Pandora Box
  • Of course a Laptop (Mine is 2GHz AMD Athlon Dual Core, 4GB RAM, Windows 7-32bits)
  • Microphone : Behringer B-1 (Also used for percussions and vocal, actually for all the instruments of the album !)
  • One microphone stand.
The microphone listed above.
  • 2 Jack cables, one XLR cable
  • And the music recording software, the wonderful Cubase SX3 !!

Of course the microphone has to be put in a suitable way next to where the right hand will touch the strings… Listening carefully with isolated headphones can help to find the best setting.

Microphone setting for acoustic recording

Okay, now let’s talk about the recording itself, for acoustic guitar first. I record two mono tracks, one with the microphone and one from the Pandora Box.

Two guitar tracks

The upper track is the one from the microphone, the lower is that from the Pandora Box. See for each track the routing I used (Microphone on right-in, Jack on left-in).

Then, each track will be doubled. Jack track 1 will be sent to the right output, and its copy to the left output. Then Microphone track 1 will be sent to the left and its copy to the right. The levels of the two copies have to be reduced in order to separate them in the stereo output. I also add a time delay of say 15-20ms to those two tracks to enhance the stereo effect.

Then both tracks get doubled, a time delay of 15ms is added to the two copies.
The mixer shows the routing and levels used for each track…

And of course, basic effects such as compression should be added to each track…

“Multiband compressor” effect.

Reverb, delay, flanger etc… are also possible, only your ears can tell you what is missing, in case something is actually missing !

And what about electric guitar ? Let me show mine :

My electric guitar ??

Yes, I know, this is not really what we can call an electric guitar, I have a nice Kort electric guitar but I left it in Brittany, we have to reduce the amount of luggage when travelling from Brittany to Istanbul ! But here is the Pandora Box, EXTREMELY helpful ! So, Pandora has a stereo output, I use a special cable to split it in two mono outputs that will be connected to the soundcard as follows :

The way Pandora is connected to the soundcard, see the two thin cables on the left.

Then, I only use two tracks, one for each mono output. From Cubase, one is sent to the left output, the other to the right. Some examples of what it sounds like here or here !

I used exactly the same kind of procedures for electric baglama and electric ‘ud. For acoustic ‘ud I only used the microphone and two tracks.

Well, I’m quite satisfied of the result so far, even if this surely has to be improved ! Would you have any useful advice, please let me know, all suggestions are welcome 🙂 !
§ Yann

Buy Astrakan Project debut album

DIY Album

16-bit or not 16-bit ?

What professional sound engineers say :

It is commonly known that professional studio recordings are made using 24-bit depth and sometimes 192kHz sampling frequency. But records that are on a CD are only 16-bit and 44.1kHz which enables a sound quality that is already far above what human ear can feel.

But then our question was :

Why the hell are they using 24-bit/192kHz although 16-bit/44.1kHz is what we use for a CD ? The answer is rather simple : when processing tools are used (such as compression or reverb for example during the mix and also during the final mastering process), low bit depth and low sample frequencies result in lower sound quality after the processing, for a simple reason : numerical errors that occur during the computations (because numerical data use a finite number of digits) get more amplified as the processing chain gets longer. Therefore it is strongly advised to record and process using the highest bit depth and sampling frequency as possible, and to convert the final result to 16/44.1 before burning the master.

But this means several requirements :

  • Much larger amount of memory
  • More powerful computers and stuff to handle this
  • High quality and expensive monitors (they can be very expensive !)

As a conclusion : much more money !

And what we do have :

In our case, we have a very cheap USB soundcard (E-MU tracker pre, about 100€), Behringer MS40 monitors (among the cheapest monitors ever, around 200€), and a laptop (a PC, not even a Mac which means no firewire) with 2GHz AMD Athlon Dual Core and 4GB RAM.

The voice and the stringed instruments were recorded with a Behringer B-1 microphone that we bought for 70€ in Portugal. We also used a Korg Pandora ToneWorks for the stringed instruments effects (Compression, chorus, flanger, distorsion etc…) that we got almost for free from my previous guitar teacher some years ago. The percussions were recorded both with this B-1 and a basic SM58 microphone.

This is what we could call a cheap home don’t you think ?

The home studio

So our conclusion was :

  • First of all, we think our monitors cannot truly render the difference between 16/44.1 and 24/192.
  • Our sound recording skills, experience and listening accuracy may not be sufficient to be able to feel the difference (it is commonly said that a sound engineer’s ear has to be trained for at least 10 years before being fully accurate).
  • Most of the samples we used when setting up the pieces (i.e. snare or bass drum samples for instance) were mostly free samples collected from the internet, or even extracted from CDs, and therefore 16/44.1 samples.
  • The recording process was already quite advanced, and we were feeling doubts growing up in our mind.
  • We read somewhere that Alanis Morissette’s first CD was recorded using 16-bit…
  • We also realised that most people listen to mp3 music on their computer or smartphone directly from youtube or soundcloud with average loudspeakers or headphones !

Then we said, let’s keep on going with 16/44.1 and let’s really try to do our best !

Can you really feel the difference ?

[ yann ]

DIY Album

When recording latency is a problem…

1 Comment

As most Cubase SX3 or any other music recording software users I have little latency problems. Of course, it is possible to set up automatic time shifts to correct this unwanted artefact during the recording sequences, by telling Cubase to automatically shift the recorded tracks by a certain number of samples backwards. However, I have noticed that latency depends on a combination of various parameters such as : the number of tracks, the number of insert effects; the CPU activity etc… which means that latency is never exactly the same from one recording to another. Well, this is quite annoying, isn’t it ?

I found a tip to correct this unwanted latency effect once I have recorded a new track :

  • I activate the tempo “click” and I get its level to the highest value as possible.
  • I put my monitoring headphones on top of the microphone used for the recording.
  • I record a few seconds of “clicks”.
“Click” recording.

Then I select the content of the new tracks including the “clicks” and I zoom onto one of these “clicks”.

Select the last recorded tracks including the “clicks”.
Set the cursor at the beginning of a measure, i.e. where the “click” should be.

I shift (by hand) the click to the right position it should have (like beginning of a measure).

Set the beginning of the “click” at the right place.

OK, it sounds like a grand mother’s remedy, but it works well !

[ yann ]