How to record your band, part 10: 10 top tips

A recap on the key learns

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For the rest of this 10-part weekly series, in association with Steinberg, keep checking the hub page.

For our final episode we're going to look back on some on ten of the most important points we've learned so far about recording a band and mixing a track afterwards.

1. Gear

If you choose to record a band playing together, make sure you're prepared with the right equipment;

The essentials are

  • Microphones: dynamic mics for the guitar and bass amplifiers and condenser microphones for vocals, ambient room recording. Drums mic'ing will require a mixture of both.
  • You'll also need mic stands for close and ambient placement of these mics and XLR cables for all the mics with spares in case you have any problems.
  • You'll need an audio interface capable of taking multiple simultaneous inputs so you can record the signals from speaker and drum mics.
  • Take a laptop with a spec capable of efficiently running digital audio workstation software.
  • Finally, be prepared. Bring spares of all your cables; especially guitar and effects pedal patch leads. Also, bring spare strings for your guitars.

2. Setting up the band

When you're setting up as a band in your chosen location, try to minimise the risk of microphone spill by spacing the musicians out from each other in a horseshoe or semi circle shape. Mic spill is where the mic used pick up the sound of one instrument picks up the sound of another instrument, and makes it harder to achieve the audio separation needed for success at the mixing stage for your song.

3. Drum mic'ing

When setting up the drum mics, take the time to get the best possible sound by making sure there's good communication between the drummer and engineer; start with the positions we talked about in episode three but don't be afraid to adjust the mics to tweak the sound. It's especially important to monitor and adjust the mics if you experience the problem of phasing with the overhead mics - this is where the sound from the drums is being picked up by the mics at different times because they're not equal distances from the drums.

4. Mic'ing a guitar amp

You can get great results from one dynamic mic positioned on your amp's speaker but make sure you take the time to experiment. Start by facing the mic directly at the centre of the speaker cone with it almost touching the grille cloth. Experiment with how it affects the tone as you move it from the centre of the speaker's cone to the edge of it. Dead centre will make for a more a direct, punchier tone, but positioning to the edge of the cone will produce a darker tonality.

5. Recording an acoustic guitar

Even if you're recording a band playing live, acoustic guitar can still be captured even without the traditional method of using a condenser mic with all the potential mic bleed that would involve. You can use an acoustic combo amp DI'd to be able to monitor and record a clear signal in a band mix. Acoustic players should also consider the source of that amplified tone; whether it's a soundhole or piezo pickup, using onboard, rack-based or pedal preamps can give you more control of your sound to give it more an acoustic-natured tone and also stand out in a band mix.

6. Tracking the band

It's a good idea to have an extra person to assume the role of engineer for your recording session - they can operate the recording software, stop and start recordings, monitor levels and give a second opinion on mic placements.

And when the band is playing together, remember to allow for the vocals you may choose to record in a separate session later. This means being sensitive to the dynamics in your song and making sure its well-rehearsed. Finally, remember you always need more cables than you think for the sessions - power adaptors and extension cables, patch leads and XLR cables. Make sure you bring more than enough.

7. Vocals

Recording vocals in a separate session after the band has tracked together enables you to focus on getting great results without worrying about mic spill. For this session it's really important that you get the headphone mix right for the vocalist; this is the monitor mix that enables them to hear themselves in relation to the music they're singing over. Adding effects like reverb for the headphone mix can go a long way to making the singer feel confident and comfortable during their session.

Remember, the voice is a fragile instrument and needs time to warm up. The singer will need time for this and to get comfortable with the track. Don't expect to get everything done in a couple of takes but also don't take too long, or vocal fatigue might set in.

8. Overdubs

You can save guitar parts like solos for the overdub stage rather than the live session, or enhance your song with some subtle extra rhythm parts to make things like choruses stand out more. We used Cubase 8's VST Amp Rack for amp, cab, mic and effect modelling within the software but you could also use a plugin for other instruments like synth sounds too. There's plenty of tools at your disposal to enrich your existing band recording and add layers.

9. Mixing

Mixing may seem like a complicated art to newcomers but it's really about following a step by step process. Take the time to review the different takes you have to begin with, and select the best to continue with. Then start with the rhythm section first as your song's foundation. Onboard effects such as compression and reverb are extremely valuable tools at the mixing stage, and using them wisely will make a huge difference to the final result. As you're making changes, remember not to just listen to parts in isolation, you need to keep coming back to the big picture of the overall song and how each instrument and part sounds together.

10. Break it down

And finally, if the idea of taking on a recording project is daunting just keep in mind that breaking it down in the way and working with your band and an engineer as a team like we have can really help it to be a manageable and rewarding experience. Our series has been a guide to get you started but don't be afraid to experiment to get a sound you're happy with, as many great musicians and producers have in the past. And most of all, have fun with it.