Tracking With 2 Pairs Of Headphones

Sometimes the simplest ideas can render super useful results. If you ever have trouble with drums overpowering your headphone mix you might try this. Recently I had my brother (who happens to be a drummer) come in to lay down some drum tracks for some music he and I are working on. He happens to be one of those drummers who beat the living snot out of the drums like they owe him money.  Anyhow, he was having a bit of trouble in certain parts of the songs hearing the click loud and clear. I had his cans CRANKED and the the drums still were a bit overpowering. I played with the mix quite a bit, adjusting the click/backing tracks and still had some trouble. After a bit of pondering I reached into my “box of wonders” (just a shoe box with connectors, cable adapters and misc. studio crap) and pulled out some Sony workout ear buds. I had him put them on underneath the tracking headphones and BAM it gave him plenty of isolation from the drums to hear everything he needed to hear. So the audio is coming through the ear buds and the circum-aural cans are there for isolation. Give it a try if you run into this issue. It might make your life a bit easier.

What kind of simple fixes do you use every day that someone might not otherwise think of?

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Tip Of The Week: Tracking With Headphones

If you haven’t noticed yet, I tend to write mostly about personal experiences related to music production. In addition, I write a lot about the little problems I’ve faced, that most of us face when writing, producing and recording music. Some of my posts might be geared toward more advanced audiophiles, and some more toward newbies and hobbyists. Keep that in mind.

Recently I started collaborating with a guy I met through CraigsList. He sent me 13 tracks that were in the hip-hop/rap genre. They were all vocal tracks he recorded at his home. He didn’t send me the loops he had for the song, and they were all out of order with no timeline. I was to write a melody, create some loops and basically use his lyrics and vocal tracks to put a song together. It sounded like a challenge and although the genre isn’t necessarily my strong point, I was eager to put my skills to the test and impress this guy.

As I started listening to each track, naming it and arranging it in Pro Tools according to its placement, I noticed right off that there was immense bleed through in his mic. I think he actually played the loops through his loudspeakers when he recorded his vocals. No matter what I did, I could not lessen the effect of hearing the loops behind his voice and it completely prevented me from doing anything useful with the tracks.

As it turned out, he admitted he was new to recording and hadn’t even thought about this issue. He asked me what he could do to fix the problem. So for anyone out there who is just starting out or hasn’t dealt with this yet, you will almost ALWAYS want to record your vocal tracks using headphones. I recommend circumaural headphones. That just means that they completely cover your ears. This will prevent your microphone from hearing the sound from a reference track and give you a nice clean track to work with. Now even with headphones you have to be careful because some things like drums or a click track can still bleed through to the mic. It’s always a good idea to listen closely before hitting record.

Some advice on buying headphones… you must consider what use you will have for them. If you are tracking vocals or instruments, you might not need the most expensive or highest quality, but if you are mixing with them, I recommend the highest you can afford. I will also say that you should use closed back cans, as open back will let out much of the sound for a mic to pick up. Open backs are mostly used for mixing purposes and closed back for tracking or mixing. Personally I use Audio Technica ATH M50s. Not only are they perfect for tracking, but they are very clean and flat for mixing as well. Yes there are more expensive cans out there but it’s what I use and have had great success. So there ya go. I hope that helps some of you. Don’t hesitate to write me if you are having issues in your home studio. Cheers!

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Tracking Your Parts In The Zone

I was working on a song yesterday morning that I had been thinking about all night. There was a guitar solo that I had recorded the previous day that I wanted to “fix”. There wasn’t really anything wrong with it but I wanted to change a part. So I nestled into my studio and began re-recording that part. 30 mins later I had probably tracked it 15 or 20 times, and still didn’t have a keeper.

We’ve all been there. That point at which you are tracking your part, be it guitar, piano or whatever. You just cannot seem to land that perfect take. Over, and over… and OVER again and it’s not happening. No matter how hard you focus, for whatever reason, every take has some issue that causes you to try another. I will tell you if it gets to that point it’s time to walk away. Come back later. I’m not sure what happens exactly, I just know that when it does you have got to clear your head and listen to something else for a while. Most of the time when it’s happened to me I was not in the “zone” as I like to call it. I’ve talked before about being most productive when you are the least distracted, and this is very similar. You are zoned in and the music just flows and comes out of you.

I went back to the original track that I had recorded, and there was something about it that just sounded better. More emotion in the notes and a less mapped out feel. I ended up forgetting why I wanted to change it in the first place. I remember when I laid it down I had done 3 runs through the solo section playing with some licks, and on the 4th run I had decided which direction to go, and I nailed it. It took no time at all because I was in the “zone” and didn’t even have to try.

So next time you are stuck in this situation, don’t panic, just go get some food. Go take a nap. Just take your mind off it and come back later. More than likely it will jump out of you fingers at that point.

Hope this helps some of you, it’s helped me a lot even recently. When this song if finished and mastered I’ll be sure to post it for all of you to hear. Drop me a comment and keep in touch. Cheers!

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