Gates are wonderful processors that can clean up background noise and bleed in your audio tracks. They’re a bit tricky to understand because the key to successfully using one is often a specific feature that’s hidden or buried in the interface. The feature I’m referring to is called the sidechain. It’s a powerful element of my mixing workflow and I’d like to show you why.
In its simplest form, a gate allows a signal to pass through it only when its decibel level is above a set threshold. This means the gate is ‘open’. If the signal falls below the threshold then no signal is allowed to pass. This means the gate is ‘closed’. The sidechain becomes an integral part of this entire process because it’s what the gate uses to detect whether or not the signal is above or below the set threshold.
Building your home studio can be a tricky task – especially when you feel that the quality of the space that you record in barely contends with what the pro’s would use. Fear not, there are solutions for making your home studio (or to some: bedroom) a comfortable place to produce high-quality recordings. Here are 5 easy ways to improve your home studio’s vocal recordings.
1. Studio Headphones
This goes without saying. Make sure you can supply your client(s) with a decent pair of headphones so that they can properly monitor the mix and record over backing tracks. Get at least 2 pairs in case the band’s producer or guitarist wants to follow along to the recording. You don’t need a pair of $400 headphones to get the client what they need to record.
2. Talk-back Functionality
Talk-back is a term used to describe a dedicated microphone that is activated when an engineer wants to speak to a performer in another room between takes. The talk-back microphone is typically routed directly into the headphone mix so that you can easily activate it and deactivate it without any real patching involved. Having this type of functionality in your home studio can improve the flow of the recording session and make the communication between you and the performer a seamless task.
3. Pop Filter/Vocal Shield
In the audio world there are different terms for just about everything. An important term to know is “plosive”. This is the sound a singer makes when they pronounce the letter “P”. This sound causes microphones to pop due to a high stream of controlled air that leaves the singer’s mouth. These pops are typically full of a low-end and can cause irregularities in the fidelity of the vocal track. Pop Filters and Vocal Shields can be used to break up that air and protect the quality of the signal so that your vocal is clean and even throughout.
Nice pre-amps can come at a high cost, but if you’re only recording vocals at your home-studio then it’s worth the investment. Pro-sumer all-in-one devices are built to give the buyer as much bang for their buck as possible. This typically means cramming as many inputs and outputs into a signal 1U rack and charging barely anything for it. This is great until you realize that the Pre-amps are noisy and barely have any character. Do yourself a favor and try out a nice pre-amp to understand the difference in quality. If you can demo one out, then do it! Or better yet, nicely as a friend to borrow their nice gear. It will go a long way in the quality of your recordings.
5. Portable Vocal Booth
The room in which you record in will be as much a part of the recording as the singers voice. This can work in your favor and can also work against you. If you’re recording in a room surrounded by untreated drywall then you may not receive the quality sound you expected. Untreated rooms reflect sound back and fourth and even back into the microphone. These sound artifacts can be detrimental to the sound and cause the vocal recording degrade in quality. A great way to help alleviate this from happening is to get yourself a portable vocal booth that will help isolate the singers voice from reflecting off neighboring walls and back into the microphone. These are inexpensive and can go a long way.