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Ulnie\'s Begginer\'s Guide to Direct Recording

Hey all, here's a guide to recording that I wrote for Guitar War. If you are new to recording please pay close attention to the panning section as that trick is going to make your pieces sound awesome.



Ulnie's Direct Digital Recording 101
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Hey all, I'm writing this guide solely because nobody else seems to want to do it and because I wished there was a guide like this when I was first learning stuff.This guide is written with the absolute beginner in mind, the goal here is to give the newbie recorder just enough information to get up and running and to start learning things for themselves. Because of this, and because I am also relatively new to digital recording, I'm not really going to go into technical details and use all kinds of fancy terminology that sounds like its straight out of Star Trek. I intend this guide to be an evolving process, should I be mistaken about a particular fact, hopefully the production masters out there can let me know, and I can update this guide. Well, lets get started.
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1. What is direct digital recording? How can I do it?

Direct recording involves plugging your guitar directly into your computer in order to create music. In order to do this, you are gonna need a few things.

-A Guitar
-At least one patchcord
-A connector
-Recording Software
-An Audio Converter
-Monitors (optional)

The Connector

I apologize for the vaguness concerning "a connector", the truth is I have no idea what the hell they are called. However, what you do with them is plug one end of the "connector" into your patchcord and the other end of the "connector" into the microphone jack of your computer. You are then free to plug the unplugged end of your patchcord into your guitar or into the "signal out" jack of whatever signal processor you happen to play your guitar through. As far as where you can get these "connectors", I've heard Radio Shack carries them, you can also try your local music store. Mine came with my copy of Guitar Tracks 2 recording software.


The Recording Software

Yep, an unfortunate part of recording music for us law-abiding citizens is that it aint cheap. Prices can range from $50 to $700. However, you will need recording software to actually lay down tracks and create music if you are recording direct. If you are just starting off and you're not evensure the you like doing your own recording/production, the last I checked, a couple of companies had trial versions of their recording software on the internet. I highly recommend picking up a 30-day trial version of "Guitar Tracks" (although there are others out there like N-Tracks). You'll have to buy your own connector until you purchase the retail version. Anyways, get some kind of software, install it, and follow the configuration instructions and you're ready to record (barring any software incompatability/sound card glitches).

The Audio Coverter

As I have yet to try every piece of sotware out there, you're software may or may not encode your songs in an mp3 format. Assuming that your software encodes in wav. format, your're going to need to get yourself an audio converter program to turn your wav into an mp3 (Guitar War only accepts Mp3 format of audio data). If your software has a converter, great, but if not, I would highly recommend picking yourself up a copy of Musicmatch Jukebox (freeware) which is kind of a little bundle of audio things, but it also comes with a killer encoder.

Monitors

I record all my music through my headphones which means that I will be losing my hearing sometime in the next 5 years. However, if you don't want to lose your hearing, you can pick yourself a nice pair of computer monitors. Aside from saving your ears, monitors will give you a better estimate of how your piece is going to sound when it actually comes out of a listener's stereo (not headphones). For complicated reasons, your headphones are going to lie to you and what you hear in your headphones is not going to be what you hear when your song comes out of a stereo.
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2. The Basics of Actual Recording

Make Sure Your Computers Volume Levels Are Properly Set

Before you begin recording, you'll want to go into your computer's sound properties panel and make sure your "mic" setting is turned on. Also, you'll want to ajust your wav playback level to a level that suits you. Also, you might wanna tweak your mic level so that you can hear your guitar playing on top of any tracks that you have previously laid down (see next section).

Laying Down Tracks

Regardless of the software you are using, you are likely to see a sound meter in the program. If you look closely, each meter should have a numerical value (i.e. 1,2,3,4). Each of those numbers represents a "track" of your song. Later on I will go into greater detail, but for now you can think of each track as representing an instrument that you are going to put into your song. For instance, track 1 can be your drum beat, track 2 can be rhythm guitar, track
3 lead, etc., etc. Now in order to record a song onto a track, you're going to need to "arm" the track for recording. Somewhere around each track should be a button saying "Record" or "R" or something to that effect. Press it down. Now, there should be a master recording button for your software which will tell the computer that you now wish to record your playing. After arming your track, press the master recording button and start playing!


Maximizing Your Recording Level or (What are all these pretty colors?)

If you've done everything correctly, you'll notice that whenever you play, the lights in your recording meter start to light up. These lights are your friends! Chances are that your meter lights are showing red and your recording is sounding like fried crap at this point (known as "clipping". What you want to do is make the meter lights stay around the point at where the yellow meets the red.
An all red or all green meter is generally a no-no. There are several ways to adjust the meter. Firstly,you can lower the volume of your instrument, however, this may result in a decrease of sound quality of your effects or tone. If this happens, go into your computers recording settings and adjust the mic level.
For some reason that 20db box may be checked, you'll probably want to uncheck that box and work from there.Anyways, tweak with your sound panel settings until the meter lights are where you want them to be. You should now be recording your stuff at an optimal level.

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3. Even More Tips For Making Your Recordings Sound Awesome


Stereo vs. Mono Encoding

When its finally time to compile your song into a mp3 format (before encoding to wav), your software is going to ask you whether you would like to encode the song in mono or stereo. For the purposes of Guitar War, unless you have a huge'o song (say over 3 minutes), your best bet, for reasons discussed in the next section on "Stereo Encoding", is to encode your piece in stereo.

Stereo Encoding

Someone once said something like "it's so easy to fool with the sound in stereo". Yep, not only is that true, but stereo encoding is going to make your pieces sound at least 4x's better. The use of stereo encoding enables the use of panning. Panning is a technique that you can use to make your piece sound fuller. Basically, when you pan something, what you are doing is sending a track you have laid down to either the left speaker or the right speaker of the speakers that will play back your song.


Panning (or How to Make Your Recording Sound "Full")

PAY CLOSE ATTENTION HERE!!! This technique will make your piece sound awesome and is IMHO the most important part of this guide! You should see a panning function somewhere in your recording software. Lay down a track and play with the function to get comfortable with it. Now here's where it comes in really useful (thank you Razor Ray for this tip). To start with, lets say you've just laid down a nice chunky rhythm track. To pan this track to the fullest, what you'll want to do is lay down a duplicate track (or copy/paste if your're lazy). Now pan one of your tracks all the way to the left side and pan the other all the way to the right. If you've snyched the two tracks perfectly,your piece should
be sounding pretty nice right now. Also, this technique is awesome for laying down lead harmonies. You can play the original track on the left side and the octave on the right, or whatever, have fun with it! Also, don't feel constrained to stick all of your tracks to one side or the other, sometimes I like to pan a track to the left, to the right, and put a track smack dab in the middle. You've
just got to play around with the tracks, adjusting both the panning, volume levels, and EQ (discussed next section) until you get something that sounds good to your ears.


EQ (or Wow, This Stuff Looks Furkin Complicated)

Somewhere in your software there should be a function that will allow you to tweak the EQ of each track you've laid down. Yeah!, EQ is complicated and thus I am not really aware of how to tweak your EQ to the fullest extent possible, someone else is going to have to do that (hopefully in laymans terms). However,
I can get you started on some of the basics of EQ. Basically, tweaking the EQ of your tracks will allow them to sound either more resonant or less resonsant. In the EQ specturm you'll see both lower and higher frequencies (represtned by a progression from hertz(Hz) to kilohertz(Kz). You can think of the lower numbers as represting the low-end of your song (i.e. your bass) and, likewise the higher frequencies would represent parts of your lead guitar or cymbals. You can boost or lower these frequencies wherever you see fit to give your track more bass, mids, or highs.

Vicariously, another use of EQ is in layering your tracks. Unless you switch your tone settings, all of the tracks of guitar that you lay down are going to be playing at the same EQ levels. This is generally a bad thing as your tracks will tend to run together and get muddy. By tweaking the EQ levels, you can set
your tracks to different frequencies so that they won't step on each others toes.

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4. Conclusion

Well, I've taught you all I know and your're now ready to advance to an intermediate class, congratulations! Give yourself a pat on the back. Please
send any complaints about typos (this was done in Wordpad which doesn't have spellcheck) to [email protected] Happy recording.

Uln Out!
 

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Re: Ulnie\'s Begginer\'s Guide to Direct Recording

Yeah Uln thanks for posting and sending this to me....I am trying to figure it all out with my recording system.......thanks man it is very appreciated!!
 

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Ulny - for the following, I thank you muchly :thumb:

"Vicariously, another use of EQ is in layering your tracks. Unless you switch your tone settings, all of the tracks of guitar that you lay down are going to be playing at the same EQ levels. This is generally a bad thing as your tracks will tend to run together and get muddy. By tweaking the EQ levels, you can set
your tracks to different frequencies so that they won't step on each others toes."
 

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absolutely awesome ulnarian !

fantastic lesson , this forum is more for the actual playing of guitar though and tabs so i'm going to move this over to home recording where i think more people will see it and i'll look into having it stickied :thumb:

again great work !

EDIT : Stickied now :thumb:
 

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The Connector

I apologize for the vaguness concerning "a connector", the truth is I have no idea what the hell they are called.
"Adapter" More specifically you want a 1/4" mono to 1/8" mono adapter for guitar to mic. For line out in mixer you want a 2 1/4" mono to 1/8" stereo junction/adapter. If you want to get RFT these are TS and TRS connections (Tip Sleeve/Tip Ring Sleeve) or so this book I have says...I call them mono and stereo and lately expanded to "unbalanced hi-impedance" stereo and mono :p Speaking of which, use of mixer may require XLS low-impedance to TS/TRS high impedance adapters. I think a small mixer is pretty useful in home recording.

The Recording Software

Yep, an unfortunate part of recording music for us law-abiding citizens is that it aint cheap. Prices can range from $50 to $700.
Audacity comes for windows, mac, linux, and other; it is free. If you are using Linux there are tools that even if they are not as powerful as the expensive stuff on Windows and Mac, they are comming closer...and they are free. You can build a home studio without having to pay for software and without breaking the law. Your hardware is still going to have to be purchased though.

Maximizing Your Recording Level or (What are all these pretty colors?)

If you've done everything correctly, you'll notice that whenever you play, the lights in your recording meter start to light up. These lights are your friends! Chances are that your meter lights are showing red and your recording is sounding like fried crap at this point (known as "clipping". What you want to do is make the meter lights stay around the point at where the yellow meets the red.

An all red or all green meter is generally a no-no. There are several ways to adjust the meter. Firstly,you can lower the volume of your instrument, however, this may result in a decrease of sound quality of your effects or tone. If this happens, go into your computers recording settings and adjust the mic level.
For some reason that 20db box may be checked, you'll probably want to uncheck that box and work from there.Anyways, tweak with your sound panel settings until the meter lights are where you want them to be. You should now be recording your stuff at an optimal level.
This is where it is nice to have a mixer and plug into line-in instead of the mic. You have better control through line-in imho and there are many ways to plug into that jack. Mixers have line out most of the time, many processors do, some amps...

Panning (or How to Make Your Recording Sound "Full")

PAY CLOSE ATTENTION HERE!!! This technique will make your piece sound awesome and is IMHO the most important part of this guide! You should see a panning function somewhere in your recording software. Lay down a track and play with the function to get comfortable with it. Now here's where it comes in really useful (thank you Razor Ray for this tip). To start with, lets say you've just laid down a nice chunky rhythm track. To pan this track to the fullest, what you'll want to do is lay down a duplicate track (or copy/paste if your're lazy). Now pan one of your tracks all the way to the left side and pan the other all the way to the right. If you've snyched the two tracks perfectly,your piece should
be sounding pretty nice right now. Also, this technique is awesome for laying down lead harmonies. You can play the original track on the left side and the octave on the right, or whatever, have fun with it! Also, don't feel constrained to stick all of your tracks to one side or the other, sometimes I like to pan a track to the left, to the right, and put a track smack dab in the middle. You've
just got to play around with the tracks, adjusting both the panning, volume levels, and EQ (discussed next section) until you get something that sounds good to your ears.
In my limited opinion I think it better not to pan all the way to one side unless I am recording from something that was already mixed, like an mp3 or my drum machine. I like to lean things to one side and try to keep in mind where the instruments would be if the band was right in front of me. Then I pan them where I want them to sound like they are comming from.

EQ (or Wow, This Stuff Looks Furkin Complicated)

Somewhere in your software there should be a function that will allow you to tweak the EQ of each track you've laid down. Yeah!, EQ is complicated and thus I am not really aware of how to tweak your EQ to the fullest extent possible, someone else is going to have to do that (hopefully in laymans terms). However,
I can get you started on some of the basics of EQ. Basically, tweaking the EQ of your tracks will allow them to sound either more resonant or less resonsant. In the EQ specturm you'll see both lower and higher frequencies (represtned by a progression from hertz(Hz) to kilohertz(Kz). You can think of the lower numbers as represting the low-end of your song (i.e. your bass) and, likewise the higher frequencies would represent parts of your lead guitar or cymbals. You can boost or lower these frequencies wherever you see fit to give your track more bass, mids, or highs.

Vicariously, another use of EQ is in layering your tracks. Unless you switch your tone settings, all of the tracks of guitar that you lay down are going to be playing at the same EQ levels. This is generally a bad thing as your tracks will tend to run together and get muddy. By tweaking the EQ levels, you can set
your tracks to different frequencies so that they won't step on each others toes.
That is interesting. I have this program called 'jamin' that is probably the most complex EQ I have ever seen.

Cool toot.
 

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Looks fantastic, mate. I have been playing with the panning myself recently, and it certainly does add another dimension to the songs. I also have done the pan hard left, pan hard right, pan dead centre trick, so it's nice to know that I am in good company.

The EQ tip sounds so damn obvious, but I would not have thought it. The only thing I tried when layering tracks was to flick the pickup setting so the tracks would sound a little different from each other, but found that it wasn't enough. This useful advice might be just what I need to really make each layered track stand out on it's own.

Thanx for the advice, mate !!!

:thumb:
 

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That was a great read!! Thanx Uln:thumb:
The EQ tip is something I've been messing with lately. It really does take the muddiness out of the mix. I usually pan about 3/4 each way and use opposite EQ curves for each rhythm track.
Another tip for those who want to fatten up their rhythm tracks(besides panning) is to edit the properties of one of the tracks and move the start point ahead 1 tick or millisec(as small a change as possible) so it is ever-so-slightly ahead of the other track. This will widen the overall sound, especially with power chords!
 

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Great post Ulny.

I record in Stereo from my MultiFX Processor so my connector is a Stereo 1/4" plug to a 1/8" Stereo mini. Anyone whom wishes to record direct in stereo will need to be sure to use Line in rather than Mic in (cept on some soundblasters where 'line in' and 'mic' are the same). However, you will want to select the 'line in' settings in your recording settings for your soundcard.
 
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