In general I would say that I'm about as low budget as it gets. I have very minimal equipment and just try and use what I do have to maximum effect. When we are ready to record a song I first map out the structure of the song in my DAW, Acoustica Mixcraft 6. I’ll label sections of the song and lay down some scratch MIDI drum tracks. I generally like to have the whole song mapped out before I start the process. Sometimes changes will be needed (even radical changes at times) but for the most part I am very Hitchcockian about the process. Once I have all that done, it’s time to start recording.
I usually lay down the guitars first and then the bass. To record the guitars I usually plug them directly into one of my preamps. I’ll use my Focusrite ISA One, but if the song calls for some grittiness I use my modified Art TubeMP. From the preamp they go into the line level input on my Presonus Audiobox interface and then into my laptop. Before it heads into my DAW I monitor it using the Audiobox Virtual Studio Live (sometimes I will EQ and compress the audio using this software but not always). I usually use digital amps to craft the sound I want but if I want to record my amp I will use a Shure SM57 into the Focusrite ISA One. For acoustic guitar I usually will try out different rooms with my Rode NT1A and decide which sounds the best for the given song.
After the guitars are laid down I usually will record a scratch vocal track so that I can start to get a feel for the shape of the song. At this point, If I have ideas, I will start embellishing with MIDI instruments. I am definitely not a minimalist when it comes to this. I will throw on strings, synths, piano, ambient sounds, and anything else that I think can add to the song. Tons of ideas will get tried; few will actually make the final cut. I trigger the MIDI instruments with a YouRock Guitar. I think this device is primarily used to play video games but I find it effective for doing this as well. Not as effective as keyboards, but unfortunately I only know how to play guitar.
The next thing I focus on is the drums. I’ll record our drummer Pete, using 8 Samson drum microphones plugged directly into the Presonus Audiobox. He plays along to the song with the scratch MIDI drums and a click track accompanying the piece. Before I even start mixing them I listen to the raw drum sounds. For the most part the drum performances are usually excellent. Sometimes though it can be difficult to give a performance that’s exceptional all the way through using this type of recording process. If that is the case, then I may start sampling the best sections using Short Circuit. In other cases, I may think that acoustic drums aren't the best fit for a song and I will use Drumtracker to convert all of the drums to MIDI drums. Usually though, the performance is strong I will use it as is. Since the Audiobox is not a stellar interface I usually bolster the snare, kick, and toms with MIDI drums. Drumtracker is what I use to do this, and this can be pretty time consuming! Sometimes I may not use live drums at all and I will use Toontrack’s Superior Drummer which I trigger with my Alesis drum pad.
Before recording the vocals I will give the track a basic mix. I mostly use Waves plugins (I especially like the Puig and CLA plugins) as well as Voxengo ones. I find that the best vocal performances are given when the mix sounds great in the headphones so I try to get everything to start sounding great. I record our singer Audra with a Rode NT1A into the Focusrite ISA One. I don’t have a dedicated studio so we usually use a walk in closet with blankets to get a good sound. I generally think that the sounds are great. When I can, I will use a friend’s studio vocal booth, but that isn't always an option. I find as long as we are diligent in setting up our makeshift vocal booth, the fidelity is perfectly fine. After the vocals I give a full mix, and make any edits that I think need to be made in order to make the song as good as possible: Maybe a section needs to be redone; maybe the drums need a different sound; maybe it needs fewer strings. Whatever it takes, I’ll do it.
Once I have the song mixed I then master it using Izotope Ozone 5. While mastering it I like to listen on a variety of sources – my monitors, expensive headphones, cheap headphones, crappy computer speakers, etc. I find that this is the best approach to get a good mix. I don’t have formal training in using any of this stuff and it has taken me a long time to learn every aspect of doing this. Sometimes it can be very frustrating when I can’t get a sound I want, or can’t get the mix I want. But I always step back and remember that it’s all in the service of making the best song possible. And I’ll do anything to achieve that.
Click here for more details about how our music studio can help you with your audio recordings!