Michigan Minstrel Music LLC

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Recording Music: Note on the Use of Effects Processors

Of the mysteries that plague those musicians who are new to recording is "when and where" to add effects processors during recording and mix-down. I rarely use processors during recording--the less circuitry in the recording chain, the better. However, with many vocalists and lead guitarists, I find that it helps to add a mild amount of compression to keep the signal from going into the red (over-saturation of digital signals create nasty distortion that take an excessive amount of time to repair).
In addition, I avoid putting any EQ in the chain during recording. Rather, I prefer to use the best mic or direct box available that has the coloration that I want. This choice gives maximum flexibility during mixing.
During post-production, I first add compression to the tracks. Though the settings are usually a matter of personal taste, I generally use a low amount of compression on the lead vocal, mid amounts of the guitars and keyboards, and high amounts on anything bass. This tends to keep the signals well behaved.
Next comes the EQ. I start with the string bass, bass pedals, and/or bass guitar tracks. I normally roll off the low end below the lowest fundamental (usually 40 Hertz--low E). Next, I add a bit at around 80 to 100 Hertz at the first octave. This seems to bring out the bottom. Finally, I roll of the high end sharply, often everything above 1,000 hertz to leave room for the higher instruments.
Conversely, I taper down the low end of guitars and keyboards below 300 to 500 hertz
in order that they will not "fight" with the bass. This is a good way to avoid the muddiness that is prominent in many home-recordings. Remember that Les Paul used to record in his garage with the first multi-track recorder that he built.
Finally, we need to remember that bass sounds naturally center themselves and lead vocals tend to take center stage. Visualize the soundscape in front of you as a landscape painting with the horizon line halfway up. Keep the vocals above the horizon, the guitars at the horizon, and the bass below the horizon and you will find that your recordings become much clearer. That's it for today. Bye.
--John Sase

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