A few words before we begin, this page won't make you a star producer / Beatmaker or independent artist! We will just give you a few rules and tricks to help you while your creating music. No matter if you start from scratch or already have a studio you will certainly discover some tricks which will help you during your creative journey.
We will start by checking out what you're looking for, there are many different categories in the sound industries and being a specialist is far better than getting a few knowledge about everything.
As soon as you know what your goal is we will start checking out the virtual and physical environment you need to have to start doing your job.
We just talk about being a specialist, but even as a specialist you need an overall knowledge to understand, or even better to overstand, how things work together that's why we gonna get into the deep world of frequencies how you can manipulate them and how it affects your final mix.
One of the hardest parts in music production is getting your own workflow without breaking the fundamental rules of music. We can't give you a workflow but we will try to help you get an understanding of how everything works together so you can define yours.
Okay if you are ready? Let's go for it!
First of all, we need to understand what we want to achieve because in the virtual world or in the physical one there are a few different tools we gonna use. For example, a singer doesn't need turntables right?
If you are a solo vocalist or instrumentalist and do not want to do the mixing and mastering job by yourself you need to get a clean input you should focus on the environment/room you're recording in. As a vocalist or if you are playing a real instrument plugged or not, you may choose a DAW specialized in the recording like Cubase or Pro tools more than in a composing like Reason or Fruityloops.
But as a vocalist or even as a solo instrumentalist one question remain are you going to play multitrack? Are you as a vocalist recording some backing voices? As an Instrumentalist are you going to record some Harmonic tracks mixed together? If yes then you also need to understand how frequencies work, how to create a room and where you gonna place the sound in it (we going to talk later about that). To achieve that specific sound treatment you will need to work with some tools like EQ, reverb, delays and more...
If you are a beatmaker and only want to use virtual instruments (VSTi) then you don't need to worry about your environment/room. You should choose a DAW specially designed for the creation rather than for the recording like Fruity Loops or Reason. You may also have an understanding of music notes. Thanx to modern technology you ain't need to know everything about music theory, there are a lot of tools VST which helps you during your production, but it may be helpful to have the basic understanding of it. A lot of beatmakers out there create amazing instrumentals but they do not sound as loud and powerful as the mainstream production. The main issue is that they design the sound independently from each other or try to perform a virtual pre-mastering on the full mix. Without understanding how the frequency of each sound react together and how to create an imaginary room which contains the full instrumental, you won't be able to enhance the power of your sound. For example, boosting a tom or a kick without considering how they gonna fit with the middle lows of your lead melody or with the bass is useless. To get a clear sound in each frequency range and a detailed sound of each instrument fitting perfectly in the mix you will need to work with and combine correctly a lot of effects.
Your goal is producing? Well, you choose the hardest part of music production you need the full spectrum of understanding from recording environment to hardware setup and comprehension over having a piece of very good knowledge about your DAW and how to combine hard- & soft- ware together. We don't need to go deeper into it know, lets go further to the equipment setup.
Let me start by clarifying one thing: Knowledge over Equipment!
T he most musician I worked with truly believe that they get a better sound just by plugged themselves into a thousand dollar hardware, no one can say that good equipment does not improve your sound experience I won't do either!
You should ask yourself what makes more sense, using low-cost equipment at 100% of its capability or shine with high-end equipment having no clue how to use it correctly? I ever use to say please don't try to understand your equipment but understand the music. As soon as you understand the music use your equipment to create the sound you wish!
My goal is to help you to start making great music not to sell you a dream you can't afford. For this simple reason, I will focus on the minimal setup required for each category.
I will Focus on the 3 categories I've already mentioned above split into 6 sub-categories, don't hesitate to ask for more in the comment box at the end of this article or write me an e-mail for more specific information.
A - One track recording plugged Instrument
You need a PC or Laptop with a soundcard fast enough to allow you a latency-free (under 4ms) recording and processing results in an error-free audio stream without dropouts or glitches. Of course, you also need a DAW allowing you to record your input. If it isn't your goal to proceed to more complex sound treatment you will find a lot of free DAWs out there.
Basically, you need the same equipment as for recording plugged instrument and a microphone, but the most important thing here is the environment / Room in which you are recording. more information in the next chapter.
You need the exact same equipment as the one track recording method. You should also equip yourself at least with a 4 bands EQ and reverb both are available as a free VST plugin. We going further in the explanation in the Knowledge chapter
Use the same equipment as method B and add a 4 Bands EQ and reverb. With a good setup combine your knowledge and effects you are ready for a really amazing unmastered sound even with a low-cost microphone. By the way with a very good setup, you will be able to create a better sound with a 50 dollar microphone than with a raw recording with the best Neuman microphone without any room configuration.
Here you need the same configuration as method A accepted that I will lie to you if I said go for a free DAW let us be realistic and I also will recommend you to buy a few VST plugins and a few VSTi. I will help you to choose the right VST and VSTi by giving you a comprehensive approach on how to use those plugin in the next chapter.
Remember that I am giving you the minimal required equipment and focusing on knowledge. Here you need the same configuration as method D combine with method E. As soon as you fully understand the knowledge I'm trying to give you in the next chapter you will start to enhance your configuration with more equipment. Let us be honest if you fully understand the next chapter and got a few month experiences in music production you won't need an equipment listing from me anymore! So let us go further to the next chapter, the most interesting part for you.
From sound to frequency back to sound ...
For a deep understanding of sound engineering, you have to understand how the frequencies work and how to manipulate them. The simplest way to figure it out without any equipment is to use one sound and play it in a different environment. Let us try to say "hello" once normal once with your hands 1 cm in front of your mouth and once in your bathroom. You should hear a different sound even you speak the word "hello" exactly in the same way. What you are hearing is not the output coming out your mouth but the reflexion of the frequencies coming back to your ears, it's as simple as that!
Every material has a different biologic structure which allows some frequency to pass through it or to reflect them back like throw a ball against a wall or against a waterfall and every equipment, hardware or VST plugin, your sound is running through is doing the same job.
While we manipulate a sound in a studio we are constantly facing the sound routing which allows you to control how you manipulate the frequency and how you affect the full mix so let's go back to the different method mention in the equipment chapter. We go from natural sounds to a translation in an audio signal running through a cable which lands into your soundcard and allows you to finally capture it into your DAW (you may run through some equipment like compressor, noise suppressor, reverb or something else before you arrived into your soundcard, if run through them before you get into your soundcard/DAW we call it an insert effect). For easy comprehension of it, you have to know that a plugged instrument works exactly like a vocalist facing a microphone, for example, an e-guitar have microphones built in under the chords which translate the generated frequencies into an audio signal.
Let us start with configuring a clean recording environment for unplugged sounds like an acoustic guitar or a vocalist.
If you understand that your environment reflects each sound bouncing in it you may understand that your microphone do not record your voice or your instrument but your microphone is recording the environment in which it's standing. Your job to gain a clean recording is to reduce all reflection who may interact with the sound you wish to record. As we seen before every material got his own ability to absorb some frequencies, with that knowledge you can now start putting different things around you microphone to isolate the true sound from the room natural reflection. But remember that you mainly want a warm natural sound so be careful with your isolation, do not create a so-called "dead room". Remember that sound is a range of frequencies, let me explain you the difference between a hanging microphone and a standing microphone. A lot of artists follow the BPM by smashing the floor with their feet like a metronome. Let go back to that example with a ball, when you let a ball fall between your feet you can feel a vibration. The question is, is that vibration a frequency? The answer is yes it is! So remember to be careful when you follow the metronome or rhythm with your feet or you will record unwanted low frequencies.
Remember what I told you at the beginning "Knowledge over equipment" now you may start understanding why you can't get a clean recording with high-end equipment if you ain't have the knowledge about creating a clean record environment!
Now that you have created a clean environment
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