How to Find the Magical Sweet Spot
After vocals, the acoustic guitar is the next most commonly recorded instrument in the home studio, and I have to say that recording using a microphone almost always gives sweeter sounding results than using an under-saddle pickup system. Acoustic guitars sound good recorded over a hard floor, so if yours is carpeted, put down some hardboard, MDF or even a few trays on the surface between the guitar and the mic stand. A reflective wall can help, but you don’t want to let in the room boxiness, so redeploy your duvet so that you have wall, guitar, microphone and then the duvet.
Mic placement is essential with acoustic guitars, and you need to take care not to aim the mic too close to the sound hole as that can produce a very boomy, boxy kind of sound. Instead mic where the neck joins the body from eight to ten inches away, but if you can audition the results over headphones while adjusting the mic placement, you might just find a magical sweet spot elsewhere. Never be afraid to experiment when there is time to do so.
By now you have a great arrangement, you have the recording environment sorted, and it is time to start recording. Let’s start by talking about recording levels. Analog recorders had a meter with 0VU marked around two thirds of the way up and above that it was ‘in the red,’ but you could often push a signal well into the red before any distortion became noticeable. That’s because analog tape machines were set up so that you had a safety margin above 0VU to allow for the inevitable signal peaks. However, with digital recording there is no built-in safety margin, so you have to create your own. Once the signal level hits the top of that level meter (Digital Full Scale) distortion is instant, dramatic and usually unpleasant. If you record at a peak level of say -15dB, you’ll have plenty of safety margin to catch those odd peaks, but still enough level that noise is not an issue. It will also make your song easier to mix as you won’t be forever pulling down faders to avoid the overall mix level from clipping.
Related: AUTO-SENS makes level monitoring easy
There isn’t room here to go into the psychology of getting the best performance out of everyone but do take extra care when recording vocals and try to create a positive atmosphere. Make at least three recordings of the main vocal so you can cherry pick the best sung phrases before you start mixing, and it’s also useful to allow the singer to do one more “no stress” take after you’ve got ones that you both know are good enough, as once the stress is off, you might capture some really magical and less inhibited moments you can use in the song.
Recording Tips – 3 of 4