Fig. 1. You can map MIDI Note On events to hundreds of respective functions in Digital Performer’s Commands window, empowering you to record remotely.
The solo recording artist cum audio engineer has a vexing dilemma: How can he operate his DAW’s controls while keeping noise in his control room from leaking into his microphones? The best solution is to place all equipment with fans in an iso box or separate machine room. But that’s not always feasible.
Fortunately, there are other ways to stop noise in its tracks. Use these techniques to ditch the din.
Go Remote Set up your mic and tweak preamp and compressor settings in your control room until your sound is dialed in and all the levels look good. Then move the mic to another room, and use a remote controller to operate your DAW and record your track.
Remotes come in wired and wireless flavors. You may already own a wired remote: your MIDI keyboard. (The “wire” is the MIDI cable.) In fact, any MIDI device can act as a remote controller for a DAW that allows you to map MIDI commands to its transport and other functions. For example, you can assign Note On events triggered by different keys on your MIDI keyboard to prompt Digital Performer (DP) to respectively record, stop, rewind, play, create a new take, and so on (see Figure 1).
Another wired solution is to use a QWERTY-keyboard extender to operate your DAW from afar using keyboard shortcuts. Gefen (gefen.com) makes high-quality keyboard-extension cables.
I use the Frontier Designs TranzPort wireless controller to remotely overdub myself in DP from one of my tracking rooms. The TranzPort not only controls DP’s transport functions, it also provides rudimentary level meters. Unfortunately, the TranzPort is a discontinued product, but you might be able to find a used unit on eBay.
Use Microphone Nulls If you absolutely must record with a microphone in your control room, you’ll of course want to turn your reference monitors all the way down and listen with headphones. Choose a directional mic to record your track, and position it so that its null point is aimed at the noisiest piece of gear in your studio. For example, point the rear of a cardioid mic at the equipment in your rack that has the loudest fan. If you’re using a bi-directional mic, make sure the side of the mic (90 or 270 degrees off-axis) is pointing at the offending noise.
Fig. 2. The sE Electronics Project Studio Reflexion Filter creates a controlled acoustic environment around your microphone, shielding it from noise and excessive room ambience.
Set Up in an Acoustic Shadow High frequencies have short wavelengths that don’t readily wrap around corners and large objects. You can take advantage of this fact by setting up your mic in the acoustic shadow provided by a wall or large furniture; that is, position the mic behind the barrier and out of the direct line of sight to the noise source.
For example, if your control room has an alcove deep enough that you can’t see your noisy gear while standing in it, try placing your mic in there (pointing out into the room). Sit or stand outside the alcove, facing the mic. The mic will capture what it’s pointing at (you or your instrument), but it will be shielded in the alcove from noise emanating from around its corner. Just be aware that bass frequencies are usually boosted inside an alcove, so it’s not a great solution for recording bright tracks.
If you’ve got the coin, invest in one of the excellent mobile products designed to create an acoustic shadow around your mic. The sE Electronics Project Studio Reflexion Filter (see Figure 2) and Acoustics Science Corporation Studio Traps are excellent choices.
You can create a makeshift acoustic shadow on the cheap by placing a large, solid music stand in the line of sight between your mic’s head capsule and the noise source. Secure thick acoustic foam or other highly absorbent material to the stand on the side facing the microphone. It’s a dirt-cheap way to take a stand against noise.
Michael Cooper (myspace.com/michaelcooperrecording) is a mix and mastering engineer and a contributing editor for Mix magazine.