I’ve finally gotten back around to recording again. I say finally, though it’s only been nine months since I’ve been in the studio. When COVID hit, it was around the time that Mellotron reached out asking if I wanted to record and release a single through them. I wasn’t sure how I was going to accomplish this since the studio I normally go to had temporarily shut down.
I had been wanting to record at home for awhile, so this forced me to get serious about purchasing my own equipment.
I consulted with the recording engineer I work with, as well as another friend who has far more experience with this, and they were both very generous with their time and knowledge. I asked them everything from: What interface should I get? What kind of microphones, XLR cables, mic stands? What recording software should I use? What kind of studio headphones would be sufficient? (Since I wasn’t quite ready to splurge on a pair of monitors.)
Here’s what I ended up with:
- Apollo Twin MKII (from Universal Audio)
- A pair of AKG 414 BULS mics
- Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 80 Ohm (closed back) headphones
As for the mic stands and cables, since I wasn’t moving stuff around a bunch I purchased a pair of AmazonBasics XLR cables (10 ft), and Pyle “heavy duty” mic stands. (Later I ended up building a three piece stand that frames out my piano, which I can hang the mics from. I used old pallet wood and a metal bar that I had in the basement. It ended up working great! I love this setup because it’s much easier to make sure the mics are the same distance from the piano, which helps keep things in phase. It’s also harder to bump into.)
As for recording software, it just so happened that soon after I bought the Apollo interface, Universal Audio released their DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), called LUNA. In the weeks before LUNA was released I tried getting started with Logic (which I had used in the past for some side-projects, nothing serious) but it felt more complicated than I wanted it to be, so I waited for LUNA. And I was not disappointed.
The nice thing about LUNA for me was that they had a few very basic introductory videos about how to get started with recording, which was all I needed, since I didn’t intend to do the mixing/mastering at that point.
This worked for the single, but I still found myself having the itch to learn how to do the mixing and mastering, because I find that once I’m in a creative flow I don’t like to interrupt it, if possible.
There were a few other videos I found helpful as far as mixing and mastering go in LUNA. (I’m only recording piano at the moment, so I thought it’d be a low-risk effort to try and do this myself.) The two that helped the most were:
- Guide To Processing Mixing And Mastering Your Music — I found this helpful for learning how to send tracks to a BUS. (I am very much a novice at this and didn’t even know what a BUS was in the first place.)
- Mastering Using UAD Plugins — This video from the Studio Rats was especially helpful for understand how to use the bx_masterdesk plugin for mastering.
LUNA lets you do a 14-day free trial of their plugins. At first I was running into DSP limitations (which just means my Apollo interface didn’t have enough processing power to run all the plugins I was trying out). Soon I found, though, this was a blessing in disguise. Instead of going crazy with plugins, it forced me to think about the essential things I wanted in the mix: compression, reverb, delay, and EQ.
Here’s what I ended up using on my latest album, Summer (release date: August 7).
- EP-34 Tape Echo
- AKG BX 20 Spring Reverb
- Brainworx bx_masterdesk
- Tube-Tech CL 1B MkII Compressor
- Sonnox Oxford Dynamic EQ
- Neve Summing
- Oxide Tape Recorder
I’m not going to pretend I know what I’m doing with all these, but I really like the way these worked together, and how the finished product turned out. I’m looking forward to honing my skills as I continue on this journey.
The most important thing, I think, is to just do it and see where it leads me. There’s a line in The Alchemist that says, “There is only one way to learn… It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.” I can only learn by doing. And at times, by failing.
I think I get most hung up on whether I’m doing it the “right” way or the “best” way, or whether it’s perfect. Or whether I’ll be judged for royally screwing something up in the mix.
I’ve had to keep reminding myself through the process that all of my favorite albums, and the sounds I like most, are not perfectly captured, mixed/mastered versions. They are raw, sometimes gritty. They are human. Intimate. They are imperfect.
So that’s what I’m trying to accomplish with my own recording. To not focus on perfection, but to capture something authentic.
True perfection seems imperfect,
yet it is perfectly itself. — Tao Te Ching, №45