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Lo-fi is the opposite of hi-fi. Technically, hi-fi sound implies a flat frequency response with no noise, distortion, or other imperfections. In contrast, lo-fi sounds might have a narrow frequency response (a thin, cheap sound), and could include artifacts such as aliasing, hiss, distortion, or record scratches and vinyl surface noise.
Lo-fi really took off with rap music, in which the drum sound was the opposite of the usual polished studio sound. Instead of a tight kick, we heard a boomy kick; wide-range snare sounds with a full thump and crisp attack gave way to tinny, trashy snares that were all midrange. Lo-fi is also a component of some dance music and of course, punk is not about polite sounds, either.
No matter what type of music you do, though, lo-fi can add extra textures and colors that make a song stand out from the crowd. So, let’s look at a few ways not to take out the trash, but put it in.
LO-FI FREQUENCY RESPONSE
You can easily make a lo-fi effect simply by messing up a signal’s frequency response so it’s anything but flat. Cut the highs and lows, boost the mids. Or create a raggedy response with lots of bumps and dips. Some ways to do this are with EQ, mic choice, and mic placement. Here are some specific tips on obtaining lo-fi frequency responses:
Play a snare track through your mixer, and turn down the low frequency and high frequency EQ. Boost around 1kHz or nearby frequencies. Your snare sound will change from high-budget to bargain-basement; Beck’s “Soul-Suckin’ Jerk” from the album Loser is a good example of a lo-fi drum set.
Find a toilet paper tube, or a flexible plastic tube that extends gutter downspouts. Put the tube in front of a mic and sing through the tube. The resonances in the tube will color the sound in a wild way.
Plug a set of headphones into a mic preamp, crank up the gain (preferably to the point of distortion), and yell into the phones: You’ll have a sound unlike any “real” mic.
Record a child’s drum set with its small heavy cymbals and boomy kick drum. You might loop a hi-hat beat made from this set, and mix it with a full-range recording of a quality drum set.
Track down some cheap old mics at a garage sale, on eBay, or from vintage mic collectors. Record a few tracks using those mics. Their frequency response tends to be a complex series of peaks and valleys that you can’t duplicate with EQ.
Unusual mic placements are fun: Record a guitar amp or vocal with the mic placed in a wastebasket (Figure 1). Hit a cymbal with a cheap mic while recording its signal. Mic a snare drum from underneath for a thin, zippy effect. If you mic a crash cymbal at its edge, pointing toward the center, the sound will waver as the cymbal tilts when struck.
Distortion adds harmonics that didn’t exist in the original sound. An obvious way to create distortion is to drive a piece of recording gear at very high levels—well beyond what it can handle. For example, record drums on a cassette recorder with the meters pinning. Or yell into a “bullet”-type harmonica mic so that the mic distorts. In a DAW, use a distortion plug-in such as iZotope Trash (Figure 2; www.izotope.com).
Guitar effects are, of course, great for adding distortion. Run a drum track through a guitar stomp box, or through a broken vintage compressor. Feed a vocal through a Line 6 Amp Farm plug-in, or their POD processor. Also consider recording some instruments on a cheap cassette recorder (Figure 3); the Rolling Stones did that to create the beginning of “Jumping Jack Flash.”
NOISE AND MORE
iZotope’s free Vinyl plug-in adds record scratches, hum, rumble, and other noises. Another way to have noises in your mix is to record noisy instruments! When the tubes in your tube guitar amp start to go, don’t throw them out but keep them in your “Lo-Fi Tools” drawer. Tubes on the verge of death often produce very interesting sounds (as do ripped speakers).
If your mixes are too sterile or studio-clean, consider recording some leakage. Leakage (also called bleed or spill) results from picking up an instrument by another instrument’s mic, like a guitar mic picking up the drums from across the room. Leakage changes the recorded sound of the drums from tight to muddy. In fact, some virtual drum instruments, like Fxpansion’s BFD and ToonTrack’s EZ Drummer, allow mixing in leakage within the drum set itself. It’s easy to create leakage while recording with mics: Just place them further away from the source than normal, and record all the instruments at once, without any baffling.
In the quest for quality recordings, it’s standard practice to treat a studio’s acoustics, often to reduce early reflections (echoes that occur less than about 20ms after the direct sound from the instrument being recorded). Those early reflections tell the ear that the instrument was recorded in a small room. Normally we get rid of the reflections and replace them with artificial reverb, but a lo-fi recording often includes the sound of the room as part of the sound of the recorded instrument.
To pick up room reflections, mic farther away than usual from the source and leave the walls uncovered; use the room for its coloration, rather than rejecting the room. For a really spacious effect, consider recording several instruments in stereo with two mics. Pick up instruments or vocals in a hallway, a bathroom, a box, or even outdoors.
It’s common to include hi-fi sounds along with lo-fi sounds in the same mix to make a statement to your listeners: “I can record hi-fi sounds, but I choose not to. The trashy sounds are due to a conscious choice rather than a lack of recording chops.” If you have nothing but lo-fi sounds in your mixes, it might sound like you don’t know what you’re doing. Just remember that the ear delights in complexity; the contrast of clean and dirty sounds, modern and vintage, can add a lot of sonic interest.
DIGITAL LO-FI TRICKS
Lo-fi is not just the province of analog recording; digital technology can create sounds so terrifying that small house pets will flee in terror. Here’s how.
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Wouldn’t it be nice if you could simply get a list of the things “not” to do in home recording? In this episode of the Home Music Studio 1 Podcast I talk about 10 mixing mistakes to avoid. For more answers to some of the most frequently asked questions in home and project recording,
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It’s sometimes difficult to started with MIDI. The communication between all the different components can get very confusing. This article is designed to help you through the process of solving your MIDI problems. The basic chain for MIDI is quite simple. The biggest problems occur in the understanding of what each piece of the puzzle does. In this first example, I’m going to assume we want to record a piano part within Cubase using Kontakt2.
#1) We need a way to enter the MIDI data. This sounds very unmusical, but it’s important for me to write in this fashion to make sure you understand what is really happening within your MIDI sequencer. You CAN enter your MIDI data with a mouse within Cubase and most other software based MIDI sequencers. However, most people prefer to have a little more human element in their MIDI productions and therefor using a MIDI controller (piano style keyboard) is the most popular way of entering MIDI data. You can also enter the data with an electronic drum kit, a MIDI guitar pickup, triggers, or using one of the keypad style gadgets out there. It needs to be said that any old keyboard with MIDI out can be used as a MIDI controller. Just to clear up the part, “entering the data” is the same thing as recording a performance or playing an instrument. In our first example, we are recording a piano part, so we will use the standard piano style MIDI controller.
#2) Now we need to hook our MIDI controller to our computer. The old standard was the 16-pin MIDI cable. Most computers do not have a MIDI cable input, but many audio interfaces do. You’ll need to plug this cable into an audio interface that has built in midi. (If you don’t have an audio interface with built in MIDI ports and your MIDI controller leaves no other options, like USB, you’ll need to obtain a MIDI interface. Most modern midi interfaces designed for working with computers use USB to connect to the computer. No special MIDI interface is required.
#3) Now it’s time to make sure the MIDI Sequencer / Recording software is picking up the MIDI signal. Most will have a meter that flashes when MIDI signal is received. So hit a few notes and see if anything lights up. If nothing lights up, there is probably a problem with your MIDI controller, the MIDI interface (if applicable), or the signal is not being routed properly within the recording software. You’ll want to check the manual for your recording software for specifics.
In our example, when we strike a key on our MIDI controller, we see a meter light up on the Cubase transport. This tell us that Cubase is getting the signal. If we do not see the meters on the Cubase transport lighting up, we have a problem. It’s possible that your operating system isn’t receiving the signal. Make sure your drivers are installed for your device(s). Also make sure that you have properly setup and set as the default MIDI device in Control Panels > Sound and Audio Devices if you are using Windows. Also make sure that you have the device setup in your recording software / sequencer as well.
Now we need to create a MIDI track to actually record the MIDI data and we may have to specific which MIDI input we want to use. (This is sometimes handled automatically). When we strike a key on the MIDI controller, a meter should light up on for that MIDI track. We have the data in the sequencer, but we still won’t hear any sound. Cubase (or any sequencer itself) doesn’t necessarily play sound. We need virtual instruments that utilize either synths or samples to actually create the sound based on the MIDI data we send to it.
So, in Cubase, we’ll open up the MIDI instruments section and load Kontakt 2 (our sampler software of choice) and then select a piano sound. Going back to our MIDI track, we need to send the MIDI signal to that piano sound by setting the output of the that MIDI track to Kontakt 2, on the appropriate channel.
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Quite a few bands have a HUGE fear of being over-produced. The idea is some sleazy producer is going to turn their Motorhead-esque sludge into something that could be played at praise and worship featuring Boyz To Men and Mariah Carey.
Watch Def Leppard’s Hysteria Classic Albums. If anyone is going to make an argument for or against big-time production, that album certainly has to be up there. They used two reels of analog tape for every single harmony and we are talking multiple harmonies. Very few bands imagine that they’ll be spending the entire day on one single harmony on one single song.
More importantly, who can afford this? The documentary says that Def Leppard had to sell 5,000,000 copies to break even. Obviously, they came out of this adventure alive (and then some) or there would be no article or documentary discussing it. What band has that kind of coin lying around? Adele is the biggest thing we’ve seen in some time (pun optional) and she sold 4.6 million copies in 2011. (Just a few years ago Disney On Ice was the best selling album of the year.) That means she would have been in the red if she used Def Leppard’s budget. Obviously times have changed. The point is very few people are moving enough units for the big time production treatment even if studio costs are plummeted.
With this fear of overproduction comes the disdain for new tools. There are tools out now that can save you time, money, or simply improve the intensity of your recordings. (This has always been the case, but a compressor from the 60s doesn’t scare as many people as snare drum replacement or Autotune.) Never advocate that an engineer automatically start meddling with the sound of a band, particularly if that band has a definable sound. However, there’s no reason to ignore technology that helps a band get THEIR sound when maybe the mics aren’t picking up the sound in their head.
Quite a few bands who are dead-set against Autotune and sample layering (but almost never against brickwall limiting). They’ll site how they, “Don’t want the T-pain sound”. Really? You don’t want your Iron Maiden-esque band to sound like a hip hop artist from 2009? I had no idea! These bands dig up examples of a tool being pushed to the extreme and then judge it.. “I don’t want to ride your children crusher. I think I’ll walk to the studio.” It doesn’t make sense to judge studio tools based on times when they’ve been intentionally abused.
The real issue here is trusting the engineer. If you are working with an engineer you don’t trust….WHY???? If you can’t listen to their previous work, sit down and have a chat, and not say to yourself, “Yeah, this is a guy we want on our team” then you shouldn’t be working with that engineer. It’s as simple as that. There are enough good recording guys out there who will do your music justice to settle for anyone who won’t.
When you tie an engineer’s hand behind his back, you are simply asking for trouble. Asking a handyman to ditch the screwdriver just because you read some whackjob article in Guitar World is absurd. What the hell do you care! You don’t tell him how to do his job. You just need to make sure the engineer knows exactly what you want. (They should be the most adamant about finding that!)
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This is a stereo digital recorder from Tascam, the company that wrote the book on do it yourself recording. This digital recorder features an adjustable stereo pair of condenser microphones that configure in either an XY or AB pattern, and two xlr ¼” combo jacks, allowing you to use both the mics and the inputs simultaneously for four track recording! You can record to either MP3 or WAV formats on the included 2 GB SD card (and use up to a 32gb card), and transfer your audio to computer via USB 2.0. There’s a great overdub feature to record narration, singing, or instruments over your existing recording. Other features include a switchable low cut filter, both manual and automatic gain control, and an analog limiter.
Recording your performances is so important these days. Besides listening back to critique your performance so you can pinpoint where you need to improve, content is king, and you need to be able to regularly post recordings on your social media. You can use the onboard condenser microphones, or the XLR ¼” combo jacks to record from another sound source like the front of house soundboard at your next gig. Using external condenser mics? No worries, the DR-40 supplies phantom power. There’s also an auto gain control and an analog limiter so you don’t have to worry about setting the level or going too hot and ruining the recording. There’s even built in EQ and reverb so you can craft a mix on the fly all from the DR-40. Brilliant!
What it Is: The Alesis MultiMix 8 USB 2.0 is an 8 channel high-resolution mixer with multichannel usb 2.0 interface capabilities. You get four high-gain mic line XLR inputs with phantom power, 2 stereo ¼” inputs, 100 onboard 28-bit preset effects including reverbs, delays, chorus, flanging, pitch and multi–effects, and a very nice feature, a stereo digital out and 2 return inputs for monitoring via the USB 2.0 audio interface.
Why This Is A Great Opportunity: Not only is the Alesis MultiMix a great compact mixer with awesome digital effects, but it also is a USB 2.0 multitrack recording interface. The Multi-Mix 8 is perfect for duos and small combo groups who don’t need a lot of inputs. Run your instruments though the mixer for pa support at a live show, and record a live mix via the USB 2.0 to your computer at the same time. Back at the studio, use the MultiMix for your recording interface direct into the included Cubase recording software. The MultiMix is compatible with both Mac and PC operating systems, and offers great dual-purpose usefulness at a very fair price.
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For multi-track recording, programs such as Ardour and Kristal Audio Engine (if you are going with Windows rather than Linux) have come along and been developed to a degree where for many poor and starving home recording artists it can be a viable option to use in their studios and many are already.
Both of these trackers have some very good press going around about them, they are very useful and very feature filled. However, one thing you will find about most any open source developed application is that there are often holes in the feature list. With these two apps that hole is MIDI. They can both record audio, they can both work with many, many different hardware sound devices and they can both edit audio, mix and process as well. But, MIDI sequencing they do not support. Though, both have it planned in the future.
That said, if you are happy enough with the audio editing and mixing features, and really, really like the price, there are options to help you get around the MIDI issue. It can be remedied by finding yourself and open source MIDI sequencer, sequencing your work in it, exporting it as audio files, then importing those files into your tracking application.
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Following closely on the heels of the release of the well-received Waves/Abbey Road – The King’s Microphones plugin, Waves Audio and Abbey Road Studios have announced a long-term strategic partnership. As part of this relationship, Waves’ R&D department will collaborate closely with Abbey Road Studios’ engineers to create an ongoing series of audio plugins. Abbey Road Studios has been home to sessions for countless landmark recordings by artists such as The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Hollies, Cliff Richard, Kate Bush…READ MORE