Music Technology - Technical Issues

If you are using recording equipment or software packages for the first time to compose, arrange or master your sound track, you will find that there are endless possibilities. The main objective is being able to understand how to use different pieces of equipment to a good standard and producing a recording to the highest possible standard. With the majority of software packages today it is possible to 'undo' and 'redo' when recording or composing, and therefore you are free to make some errors and you can constantly evaluate your work to improve.


To be successful

Advice or tips to help you


· Using software

· Seek help if a software package is unfamiliar

· If you are using a specific software package for the first time, you shouldn't hesitate to ask for help from other class members or your teacher/tutor. All software packages come with a comprehensive 'help' section and you will find plenty of guides/videos on the internet explaining how to do certain things.

· Consider whether to use notation or sequencer software

· You should always use the software that you are most comfortable and confident in using when preparing your composition or arrangement. Most software packages today have a sequencer and notation function. You may find that your composition looks very professional on a notation software package but a sequencer package is more flexible when adding specific effects and unique timbres to your piece.

· Decide whether you need to record in a recording studio

· If you are able to use the facilities of a recording studio to record live sounds, this will certainly enhance your overall experience and recording. However, you can achieve a high quality recording by using your own computer and more portal recording equipment.


· Considering health and safety

· Use electrical equipment safely

· Always ensure that you take great care when handling any electrical equipment. All equipment should be tested regularly for faults. If you notice any equipment not working or developing an electrical fault, stop using them immediately and switch them off in the wall socket. Notify a member of staff immediately in all cases.

· Use leads and microphones safely

· Connecting and disconnecting any leads or microphones should always be made with the power off and with all faders down.

· Leads should be located where possible out of the way; having leads running across the floor or above floor level will certainly cause accidents and damage expensive equipment.

· Identify hazards in the recording studio

· A busy recording studio will include numerous electrical equipment, acoustic and electronic instruments and numerous leads and microphones. All possible hazards should be identified before you start using the equipment, and always put all equipment away when finishing any recording session.


· Using different formats

· Learn how to use a MIDI file

· MIDI sends event messages about musical notation, pitch and control signals. You can download numerous classical and contemporary songs in a MIDI file and import to use in a music software package as part of a sound track or arrangement.

· Decide on which audio format to use

· This depends entirely on the quality you require from an audio track. A WAV file will be very high in quality, but an MP3 will be much smaller in storage size. Some software packages and players will only recognize and allow you to use certain audio formats.

· Be careful when converting from one format to another

· There are numerous software packages and downloadable software from the internet that will allow you to convert from one format to the other. But always consider the effect of the formatting on the quality and size of the converted file.


· Evaluating equipment

· Find out whether speakers or headphones are best for you

· Everyone can listen using a stereo pair of speakers and it will give you a realistic feel of the final sound. However, sometimes general noise and sound will distract you from listening out for errors in your recordings. Using a good quality set of headphones is an isolated way of listening to every detail of your recording.

· Ensure all connections are working

· The most common problem with recording equipment is an incorrect connection causing problems. You should always double check all connections and make sure all faders are up and that the recording settings are correct.

· Tune acoustic instruments before and during recording

· When recording any acoustic instrument, you should take time to tune and check the tuning frequently as you record. A recording studio environment can be very warm and many instruments will go out of tune.


· Using effects

· Decide which effects to include on your recordings

· Effects are wonderful tools if you use them correctly. They can help bring out certain instruments, but if you overuse effects, you will get the opposite of what you want. Your sound will be muddy and vague. The trick is to figure out what needs effects and what doesn't.

· Consider whether to use an audio compressor

· It's natural for musicians to play or sing parts of a song at different levels. For instance, a singer in a metal band may whisper in the verse and scream in the chorus. If you were to turn up their mic's input volume to make the whispers louder, the screams would distort. If you turned down the input volume the screams will no longer distort but the whispers become inaudible. That is where using a compressor comes in handy while recording or mixing your tracks.

· Use equalizers (EQ)

· Equalizers (EQ) help you control the timbre and harmonic content of your music. If used properly, they can bring your mixes to life. If overused they can make your audio sound like the band was playing inside a tin can when they were recorded. It's always best to have '"fresh ears" when applying EQ and other processing effect to your mix.


· Recording instruments

· Use condenser mics to record an acoustic instrument

· Any acoustic instrument will be most accurately recorded with a condenser mic. It should be always handled with care. Too hard handling (a drop to the floor), too high sound pressure (screaming into it close up) can cause this type of microphone to stop functioning. If you use a condenser mic, you will need a preamp or a mixer that will provide phantom power or "phantom feed" of usually 48 volts.

· Use dynamic mics to record a live rock band

· To record a live performance on stage or outdoors, you should use dynamic mics. All instruments and voices should be mixed up individually and a compressor should be used.

· Decide where to place the microphones

· When recording a live instrument, it is essential to place the microphones as close as possible. However, ensure that the microphone doesn't get in the way of the performer.


· Recording voices

· Use a condenser mic to record vocals

· The condenser mic is the best as it generally has a flatter frequency response than the dynamic one. That is why you should choose a condenser mic when high accuracy and clarity of the recording is needed.

· Place the mic correctly when recording vocals

· A good starting point is to position the mic so that the diaphragm is slightly above it, and facing the person's mouth. This not only helps keep the singer's throat open, it also lessens sibilants and plosives.

· Start with a distance of about 6-12 inches between singer and mic and adjust as required. If you've got a quiet or breathy singer, having the mic too far away will add risk of too much room tone. Bring the mic in close for a present, intimate sound.

· Ensure that you get a good quality vocal recording

· You may notice in some recordings that words ending or starting with "s" and '"t" there is a sharp unwanted hiss on the "s". One way to overcome this problem is to get the singer to tilt there head slightly off axis from the microphone for a split second during the pronunciation of these sounds.

· Another method is to buy a click eliminator / pop shield. This is a round screen that goes between the singer and the microphone to filter these unwanted elements.


· Editing

· Use editing to get the best recording possible

· The best thing about recording instruments and voices is that it is possible to record all parts more than once. You should always aim to rehearse and get the best take in the first three attempts. If you are depending on instrumentalist or vocalists who aren't available at all times to record, you must focus on getting the best possible recordings in one session.

· Use cut and paste

· If you are recording a piece in more than one take, you will find that you may have one verse working well on the first take and a verse much better on the second take. Take advantage of the cut and paste functions but ensure that there are no differences in pitch or quality in the recording as this could become very obvious to the listeners.

· Learn about the difference between mixing and mastering

· Mixing and mastering, traditionally speaking, are two very separate processes. Mixing is the art of levelling, equalizing and effecting all the various sources from many tracks down to a stereo mix. Mastering is the process of taking the stereo mix and putting it in the final album-ready form.


· Using pre-composed patterns

· Remember that you can record and include samples in your piece

· No longer are you limited to the musical notes played by somebody else on a music loop but you can create your own lead lines, chords, riffs and more by using a sample. Of course, you need to be able to 'play music' to use samples. All a sample library will do for you is make a particular sound that you want to use available to play on your keyboard.

· Consider whether to use loops

· The advantage of using pre-recorded loops is that you have an enormous selection of loops to choose from. You can find loops containing exotic instruments, good quality guitar sounds, classic synths, even entire symphonic orchestras.

· Consider the benefits of using an electrical drum set

· The benefits of having an electric drum set is you can be playing the drum set but the only person that is hearing it is you. You can change all the sounds, you can make it sound many different ways. The one disadvantage to using an electric drum set, especially if you are in a rock band, is that it does not have the same attack and the same sound as a live drum.