When I position drums in the tracking room, I always double check my spot, even though the drums might be in my favorite corner or against the wall that I like. I then move the entire kit around by a few inches or a foot to find that magic spot where the low end on the kick is extended or the snare has the most crack. Sometimes just a couple of inches can make a major improvement in overall tone.
When I record non-tuned percussion, I take great care to choose the exact tambourine or shaker to fit the tone of the song. Even after I choose the instrument I refine it by VSOing the tape or DAW by just a small percentage to fine tune the instrument to the track. Sometimes a 1% change in speed can make a dark percussion instrument rise above the track.
I often mix from DAW on analog consoles. Every gain stage of an analog console has its own tone. A track’s sound can be altered dramatically by how hard the level from the DAW hits the front end of the console. I take time to listen to the difference when the input trim is attenuated, set at unity or boosted. I also check the tone when the level from the DAW is attenuated in the computer before it hits the console’s input.
Just as the input of the console has an affect on the sound, the master fader’s position can make a major change in tone. Each console can sound very different depending upon how “hard” or “soft” a console is driven. Sometimes it’s best to leave the console master fader at the top and attenuate the level, if needed, at the recorder or DAW input. This might give a more open tone to the mix. Other times hitting the console output hard and pulling the master fader down can result in a darker more compressed tone. Every console’s output stages work differently so it’s worth it to experiment with the differences in tone on a mix.
We all take time to find just the right mic to complement a singer’s voice. Compressors, as well, all have a unique sound. I audition several compressors on a singer to find the one that has the best color and handles a singer’s peaks and open vowels in the most invisible manner. Unless I need to destroy a sound then they all work just fine when I turn them all the way up.
We all like to record digital at healthy levels. However, to do that we often have to push the output of the analog input chain to deliver those high levels. This might look good going into the DAW. Unfortunately some pieces of analog gear, especially vintage mic pres and compressors don’t always like to be pushed so hard. You might be overdriving the output stage of the device and seriously compromising its headroom and transient response. Sometimes it’s best to back the output down and record at more reasonable levels, especially when working at higher sampling rates.
I spend lots of time in tracking getting the exact sounds I want. Because of this, mixing my own tracks can mainly be a time of balancing as opposed to processing. If a track doesn’t require any EQ, I’ll often patch it into the Insert Return or Fader input, as opposed to the line input of the analog console. This eliminates a few stages of circuitry and can result in a more open and transient sound. Then again, especially in old vintage consoles, a few more transformers in the path can round off the edges on a track and make a nasty guitar fall right in place in a mix.
The best compressor can be an acoustic compressor. I use baffles or gobos to direct or compress a sound into the microphone. A thick baffle placed behind or alongside the sound can help direct or force the sound straight into the mic and help it not dissipate into the room. This is most effective on a vocal or solo horn instrument.
Long microphone level runs can exhibit signal loss and noise. Many tube condenser mics come supplied with a 25-foot cable from the mic to the power supply. Instead of adding another 25-foot mic cable from the supply to the mic panel, when I’m recording vocals, I often actually bring the power supply into the control room and run the cable through the door, or a feed through, to eliminate the mic cable. I’ll then patch directly out of the power supply into the mic pre with a very short mic cable.
In the digital world the best investment for a studio is in a high quality clock source. Syncing DAWs, digital console, and DAT machines together with one clock can dramatically improve a studio’s sound. The one item people forget about is the BNC clock connection cable. For whatever reason, these cables seem to go bad more often than abused guitar cables. Invest in high quality cables that ensure a tight twist lock in the socket.