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7. Upgrade the right stuff.
I’ve been covering this in recent installments of my Guitar Tracks column here in Premier Guitar, but it bears mention in this space, as well. Upgrading or improving certain things in your signal path will make more difference than others. For example, I’m a firm believer in having the best monitors you can afford. You hear everything through those speakers or headphones, so you have to be able to trust them. I’m also a firm believer in capturing with the best quality possible at the source. This means great mics and preamps. And a few key pieces of processing gear, such as a nice analog compressor, can go a long way toward making the later digital representation of many of your signals that much better.
Samson MediaOne 3a pair $99 street
M-Audio AV 40 pair $149 street
Alesis M1 Active MKII pair $239 street
$500 to $1,000
Tannoy Reveal 601a pair $499 street
Focal CMS40 pair $790 street
Dynaudio BM 5A MKII $998 street
JBL LSR4328P $1,559 street
Neumann KH 120 $1,499 street
Sonodyne SM 200Ak $1,590 street
Shure SM57 dynamic $99 street
Audio-Technica AT 2035 large-diaphragm condenser $149 street
Rode NT1-A large-diaphragm condenser $229 street
$250 to $500
Sennheiser MK 4 large-diaphragm condenser $299 street
Blue Microphones Baby Bottle large-diaphragm condenser $399 street
Shure KSM32 large-diaphragm condenser $499 street
Mojave Audio MA-201fet large-diaphragm condenser $695 street
AKG C 414 XLII large-diaphragm condenser $999 street
Neumann TLM 103 large-diaphragm condenser $1,099 street
Behringer autocom pro-XL
mdX1600 $109 street
alesis 3632 $149 street
dbx 266xs $149 street
$299 to $500
art pro-VLa ii $299 street
dbx 160a $429 street
drawmer mXpro-30 $497 street
Chameleon Labs 7720 $535 street
aphex model 240 $699 street
tL audio 5021 $999 street
Art Tube MP Studio V3 $69 Street
PreSonus TubePro $129 Street
Studio Projects VTB1 $149 Street
$150 to $500
dbx 286s $199 Street
ART Voice Channel $399 Street
Focusrite ISA One $499 Street
Grace Design m101 $565 Street
Chameleon Labs 7602 MKII $719 Street
JoeMeek twinQ $949 Street
the room still matters. The iconic drum track from Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” has been sampled innumerable times over the years, and a huge part of its classic vibe is due to where it was recorded. In this scene from the 2009 documentary It Might Get Loud, Jimmy Page stands in the foyer of Headley Grange, the East Hampshire, England, home where Zep recorded tracks for four of their most famous albums. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
8. The room
This is a corollary to item 7: One of the best investments you can make in your digital tracks is to acoustically treat your recording and control room. You’d be surprised how much the sound of the room affects what you do, and digital captures all that roominess with perfect clarity … so make sure the space you are working in is doing the job.
9. Hygiene is key.
In the analog days, you had to demagnetize tape heads, clean the tape path, wind the tape for proper storage, and perform other routine maintenance tasks at the beginning and end of every session. The same is true with digital—the tasks are just different. Lots of takes and edits can result in a ton of files scattered around your computer and slowing down your system. Unused mixer channels and plugins can end up hiding in the system, weighing down the project, and eating up CPU and memory resources. Lots of small apps running in the background on your computer will also sap it of precious processing resources. Keep it clean and organized, and your system will always perform its best.
But basic maintenance extends beyond this to installing current versions of software, having plenty of space available on your recording drive, installing plenty of RAM in your computer, and otherwise optimizing your system for maximum performance. However, don’t do those things the night before a critical session— give yourself plenty of time to learn and test new versions of software or plug-ins before you put them to work for real.
digital data is fragile. Saving multiple versions of a project under new names provides some protection against corrupted fi les—and it’s a great organizational tool—but for real protection, you must back up your work regularly.
10. Digital data
The virtual ones and zeros that make up digital data are not robust. One small mishap and your hardwon tracks can vanish. For this reason, it’s imperative that you save and back up your data constantly. By habit, I hit the save command in my DAW every time I make a change. And when I’ve made a significant number of changes, or I’ve gotten to the point where it would be extremely painful to have to recreate my work, I save a new copy under a different name. (Project 1, Project 1a, Project 1b, Project 1c, and so on.) This way, if a project file gets corrupted, I can always step back to the last version and work forward again without losing everything.
Likewise, at the end of every work session, I back up the project to a separate hard drive. That way, if the hard drive in the computer goes down, I’ve still got my work on a second drive and can quickly recover and begin working again.
It’s all about the outcome.
Digital has been a true godsend for musicians who want to capture and distribute pro-quality recordings without waiting for some major label to finance the dream. It’s made super-powerful recording tools available to pretty much anyone. But it’s about more than just the tools. Keep these 10 simple tips in mind during all your future recording adventures, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much the quality of your digital projects improves as a result of such straight-ahead measures. More than that, you’ll find they make studio life easier and less stressful— which can only portend good things for your creativity and performance quality. Good habits are good habits, whether you’re working with analog or digital, and in the studio, good habits lead to great recordings!