Studio recording tricks: three simple tips from veteran producers to you

Studio recording tricks are to audio engineers what secret ingredients are to chefs. They make the difference between a first-year rookie and a seasoned professional. Here are three simple tips every music producer should know.

Instant pop screen / pop filter

The trick everyone knows (you do know, don’t you?) is how to make a pop screen for recording vocals out of a nylon stocking and a wire hanger. A pop screen, or pop filter, diffuses all the impact from sharp consonant sounds like ‘puh,’ ‘kuh,’ ‘tuh‘ and ‘sss.’ Sounds like those cause mic inputs to peak, making sharp, loud pops emit from speakers if played back. Basically, they can’t happen and need to be edited out using audio manipulation software — unless you have a pop screen.

Pop screens are available at any pro music store, and they look like this:

But you don’t need to buy one. Just fashion a frame out of a wire clothes hanger and stretch a nylon stocking over it. Attach it to your microphone stand between your vocalist and the microphone. Viola! Instant pop screen.

Change the acoustics of any room

If you record music at home, you’ve noticed it’s hard to get recordings crisp and clear without echoes, feedback, and other sonic artifacts cluttering up your recordings. That’s because of acoustics.

Every room has different acoustics and treats sound waves differently. Acoustics are why every concrete parking structure echoes very well (especially without cars to buffer the sound waves) and why a trained ear can always tell when something was recorded in a bathroom (lots of tile).

Sound bounces off hard, flat surfaces very well, and this makes for messy, unmanageable recordings. The idea, then, is to alter rooms you’ll be recording in so sound that doesn’t go into the microphone dissipates when it hits a surface like walls, ceiling or floor.

You can do this lots of ways. One simple way is to tack up some carpet scraps. Don’t put it flush against the wall. Let it hang and be uneven on the surface. Or you can make dampening panels like the guys at AcousticsFREQ did, shown above. That’s a useful strategy because the frames can be taken down when you want your living room back and replaced when you want a music studio again.

Other sound-dampening weapons include pillows, cushions, mattresses, and any and all kinds of foam. Place these between the microphone and any surfaces which may reflect sound to turn virtually any room into a semi-legit sound studio.

Make a crowd sound like a crowd

Ever need to record what sounds like a group of people shouting or singing along to the music, but it still sounds like one or two people overlayed again and again and again across twenty tracks? That’s because even if your best vocalist records himself or herself performing the bit at the top of their vocal range, the bottom of their range, and maybe even with a few faked international accents, it’s still going to sound like your vocalist. Singing voices are like fingerprints and easily identifiable.

The trick here is dissonance. Noise. You need to fill in all the vocal ranges produced by a couple hundred people singing or shouting at once. But it’s not easy to grab ten strangers off the street and teach them a part you need them to perform in the studio.

The solution is to record the worst singer you know.

Tone-deaf persons have a remarkable talent that goes somewhat unappreciated: they sing with naturally randomized variance. All these haphazard micro-notes they accidentally hit (or miss, as it were) fill in the little gaps otherwise taken up with the kaleidoscope of different voices produced by a crowd. Often, the harder they try, the tighter their scattershot vocal attempts will focus around the melody of the song while still doing the job. In other words, they’ll be singing exactly the way you want them to. It’s their moment.

So call up that buddy who lip syncs “Happy Birthday” and the national anthem and tell him you need him in your studio right away.