Tag Archives: music production

The Craft Of Recording Electric Guitars

Here is an article I wrote for The Deli Magazine.

You can find the original article HERE.

Recording Electric Guitars

10 ideas for recording amazing electric guitars – by Shane O’Connor 

Recording guitars, although easy at first can be a challenge when you really want to achieve a great sound. Here are some helpful tips to improve your guitar recording chops.

1. Set Up Your Guitar 
Amazing guitar tones start with the player. Recording a great song with a good player is always key. Beyond the player, the instrument must be in top shape as well. Sending your guitar to be professionally set up is a great way to ensure your guitar tracks are properly in tune and there are no buzzes, squeaks or hums coming from the instrument. A professional set up will also allow the guitar to play easier and feel better, which will help to create a better performance.

2. Isolate The Amp From The Floor 
When recording guitars in small spaces, such as a bedroom or a project studio, the physical connection between the amp and the floor can cause the amp to sympathetically vibrate with the floor. This creates an artificial sense of low end that is often hard to eq out and can make your recording sound muddy. By isolating the amp from the floor with dense insulation or a product such as the Auralex Gamma Pad, the amp can accurately reproduce the low end without vibrating with the room. This can be very useful with dense guitar arrangements where layered guitars can stack up to create a muddy mess in the mix.

3. Understand The Room 
The sound of the amp is largely impacted by the room that is exists in. Standing waves are created when a loud guitar amp is played in a small space. To minimize the impact of standing waves, angle the guitar amp at 45 degrees to parallel walls. This will help to keep prominent frequencies from building up in the room.
For more control of the room sound, try draping a heavy blanket over the speaker cabinet. This will eliminate the room sound for microphones close to the cabinet. A second room mic can then be added for control of the room sound in the mix. This creates the possibility for all types of sonic experimentation when it comes time for mix. For example, the room mic can be panned opposite of the close mic. A delay can be added to the room mic for even more spatial distinction.

4. Eq With Mic Placement 

There are tone knobs on a guitar, and often eq and tone knobs on a guitar amp. Although these knobs are easy to use and tempting to play with, drastic eqing on an amp can sound harsh or push the amp to distortion in unpleasant ways. A less conventional, but equally as effective method of eq can be accomplished through microphone placement at the speaker cone.
The closer the microphone is to the center of the speaker, the more low end and high end will be picked up. As the microphone is moved to the outside of the cone, the midrange becomes clearer in comparison. In conjunction with this, the angle of the microphone in relation to the cone can also change the tone of the guitar sound. Angling the microphone 45 degrees outward will reduce the upper midrange frequencies. Angling the microphone 45 degrees inward will increase low midrange frequencies.
Also, different mics will capture different tonal colors from your amp.  Sometimes just switching to a different mic will make a track sound better or sit better in your mix.  Also, using two mics at once gives you the option of choosing between or blending the two tracks later.  Favorites for guitar amps are dynamic mics both for their tone and their ability to handle high volume.  Although ribbon mics are less able to handle loud signals, they are handy for capturing a rich and accurate tone.

5. Pick A Pick 
Although you probably have a favorite guitar pick that works well with your playing style, there are guitar pick options that can drastically alter the tone of your guitar. For more attack on leads and solos, a metal pick can brighten up the guitar tone without having to resort to eq at the amp. In contrast, a felt pick can be the perfect choice for soft rhythm guitar that needs to sit well with keyboards and piano. Before spending lots of money on a new amp or effects pedal, a trip to the music store for a new guitar pick might be all you need. Strings can have an impact on your tone too.  Experiment with different brands, different materials, different gauges and different windings.  Steel strings tend to be bright, loud and have good sustain.  Whereas, nickel-plated or pure nickel strings can be a little softer and the tone is more subdued.  Thicker strings will give you more volume and a bit more sustain, but the thicker the gauge the harder they are to play.  Try to find the right gauge for your desired tone and don’t use such heavy strings that it disrupts your performance.  And finally, check out different windings for your strings.  Most people use round wound strings, but if you’re looking to dull your sound for a real vintagey-vibe try flat wound or tape wound strings.  This is particularly apparent on bass.  Flat or tape wound strings give the notes you play a thumpier attack and limit your sustain significantly.

6. Types Of Guitar Doubles 
A straight double of rhythm guitar might be all a song needs to thicken up the guitars, but often doubling guitars in a dense arrangement leads to trouble when it comes time to mix. Doubling just the root note of a chord progression is a great way to thicken a guitar track without adding too much information. A second double an octave above the root can also work well if it is panned in opposition to the original root note double.
For a lift in the chorus of a song, whole note doubles work well to emphasize the chord changes. On a heavy rock song, whole note doubles with less distortion often work really well to add clarity and harmonic distinction to the chord progression. On less heavy pop or country songs, whole note doubles with different chord voicings can add a sense of spaciousness and fullness to a chorus without adding another part to distract from the vocal.

7. To Eq At The Amp Or In The Mix 
It is often a studio rule of thumb that great sounds should be achieved at the source as opposed to fixing things in the mix. As true as this is, there are always exceptions to the rule. One exception is when to eq a guitar amp. If eq is added on the amp itself, the resulting guitar sound usually changes the way the guitar part relates to the rest of the mix. Eqing at the amp can be thought of as adding an effect and changing the purpose of the guitar part. Eqing in mix can be much more subtle. I often save eqing the low end of guitars for mix, but add boosts to the high end of guitars at the amp while tracking. This ensures that I don’t over eq the low end and muddy up the track before mixing, but still allows me to subtly distort the top end at the amp while tracking.

8. Easy On The Reverb 
Generally, less reverb on guitars is a smart choice while tracking. Unless you are striving for a Dick Dale drenched guitar sound, most reverb can be added in mix. The reverb might sound great on the first rhythm guitar while tracking, but once three or four guitars are stacked on top of the initial rhythm guitar, that reverb sounds distracting and amateur.

9. Linking Effects 
The pedal board you use for live shows might be efficient and stocked with cool noise makers, but that doesn’t make it the best idea for recording. Generally using the least amount of effects to achieve the desired guitar tone is the best plan. If there are effects pedals in the signal chain that aren’t being used, they may be degrading the signal and causing excess noise. Take any pedal out of the chain that is not being used. It is common sense, but try to use the highest quality and shortest cables between guitar pedals.     Think critically and creatively about which pedals you use and in what order. Although a heavy distortion pedal might sound fun on its own, it might not be the best choice for the song. Using a gain boost pedal to push the amp harder might be the most natural and best distortion sound for the song. A more creative use for that wild distortion pedal might be after your delay and reverb pedal. Crazy spaced out sounds from delay and reverb can become even more psychedelic with a distortion and an eq pedal after them.

10. Take A DI 
When recording guitars, I always record a DI signal directly from the guitar before it hits any effects or an amp. I do this for two reasons. If the performance was perfect, but I want to change the guitar sound in the mix, I can use the DI signal to re record through different amps later. This is a good practice, but can also lead to creative uses of amplifiers that would not be possible while tracking the original guitar. One example is swinging a microphone around a vertically placed speaker as the prerecorded signal plays through the amp. This creates a swirling phaser sound that is unlike any phaser pedal.
Secondly, the DI signal can occasionally be used in the mix as a way to beef up the low end of a guitar take without doubling the part. This is specifically useful with heavy detuned guitars. The DI adds clarity to the low end, but does not alter the rhythmic tightness of the original performance.

Shane O’Connor is a producer and recording engineer from New York City. Shane has worked with artists such as Madi Diaz, Tab The Band, and Blackbutton. Currently, he worked out of Skyline Recording Studio. You can find more information on Shane O’Connor as well as more recording tips atwww.shaneoconnorrecording.com.

Johnny Rodgers At Toad Cambridge

Last night I went out to see Jonny Rodgers at Toad in Porter Square. Toad is the tiniest club on earth.

I was dragged to this by producer and studio owner Nate Christie of Karmic Music. He kept calling me insisting that I had to check this show out. Being that I was in the neighborhood anyway, and the show was free, I took a chance on this guy.

I was certainly impressed with his material in a way that I wasn’t expecting from such a small venue which usually hosts very amateur artists. I suggest checking out his myspace and picking up a copy of his record.

What creates width in a mix?

What creates width in a mix?

– key elements panned hard left and right.

– a strong sense of “center” channel comprised of kick, snare, and bass.

– low end material panned to the center from 700hz and below.

– stereo movement from less wide to wide. For example, choruses get wider than verses.

– a juxtaposition of stereo and mono ideas.

– delays used over reverbs

– two mono delays, or two mono reverbs instead of stereo delays and reverbs

– doubled rhythm instruments panned hard left and right, but not all of the time throughout the song.


Bring To Life Those Digital Pianos

A real piano is a huge asset to any recording studio. Barefoot, where I work, has a beautiful Knabe grand piano that is used often. If you are stuck using digital keys, there is still hope.

1. Try pumping the digital keys back out into a room and recording the sound of the room. Blend this in to the original digital keyboard track. This works very well if it is the same room that other instruments on the track were recorded in. It helps to “glue” all of the elements together with a cohesive ambience.

2. If you are mixing in a studio with a grand piano, and you want to keep your awesome piano performances, you can re-amp the digital piano signal back into the piano enclosure. This will excite and vibrate the wood and strings of the piano, which is often the element lost in a digital representation of a piano.

3. If you are using fender rhodes, wurli, or synth tracks, it can be a fun effect to run those through the piano enclosure also. Think of it as “pianoverb”

If you want further information on how to get your digital piano tracks to hold up to the real thing, send me an email shaneoconnorrecording@gmail.com

Video is a REQUIRED change.

As I have discussed, for some artists the album is over. For other artists, the album has just changed it’s face into something that has to be devided/ remixed/ reworded/ and newly packaged.

Video, on the other hand, cannot be ignored. It is the new album for some. It is the new radio for others. In our cluttered internet landscape, it is harder to avoid a video than it is to ignore audio or text. Simply put, video is more emotional.

So what does that mean for a musician? It means that the notion of recording your songs in a studio and putting it on your website might not be good enough anymore. There is another step in the process that has to be considered.

I was talking with a good friend of my mine last night, who has just started a really awesome new band. He told me that he had no interested in releasing music recorded in studios. He only wants to make amazing videos of live performances. I was put in my place.

Here are some videos I love.

Trends and Counter Trends

Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby, mentioned in a recent interview that pop culture trends often have a counter trend that is equally important to note. Sivers’ noted that although micro videos on Youtube are incredibly popular, lengthy epics such as The Sopranos and Lost are also on the forefront of pop culture. If the counter trend is equally as important as the trend itself, what does that say about the music industry? Consider these assumptions:

“No one pays for music anymore”

Yes, no one pays for music, if you define “everyone” as those who do not pay for music. What about all of the people going to large festivals this summer? They will pay to get in. Advertisers pay for music. Film pays for music. Movies related to musical artists are often paid for. There may not always be people willing to pay for “any” music, but I guarantee that there will always be people willing to pay for the emotional response associated with music. This will never go away. The trick is, how do you market the emotional response?

“There are a million bands just like mine, no one will care that I am creating music”

True! Most people will not care that you are creating something special and unique. This is the best possible scenario. How would you create music that appealed to everyone? It would be next to impossible. Think of your music as the smallest niche possible. Get specific as to who you are marketing to, and suddenly it becomes a lot easier to be “the best polka funk band in the world”.

“The major record labels are going under because there is no more money in music”

What a lie! The major record labels are losing power and attention because they are working in an antiquated business mindset. It has nothing to do with a lack of money in music. There is always money in music if that is the way you see the music industry. Unless you are currently only making money with a deal from a major record label, why would you care if they crash and burn? There are so many indie labels that are doing great things for their artists and making money. Beyond indies, there are legions of completely independent bands that flourish by releasing self funded records ( often recorded by people like me).

” Illegal downloading is robbing musicians of income”

I do believe that illegal downloading robs musicians of a possible income stream. Although this puts an end to one income stream, that does not mean that the end of the world is upon us. The problem allows us to innovate new ways of creating money in music. Because it is easier to promote a new artist than ever before, it is now possible to work in artist development for half the cost that it did twenty years ago. Why is this not looked at as a blessing?

Collaboration With Charity Will Break Your Band

A an amendment to my blog post yesterday, lets make everything an event.

Where would your band be if you committed to working with 4 separate charities a year. The possibilities are endless, but here are just some quick ideas.

-Host a charity show that is co-promoted with the charity.

– Create a series of merchandise (related to your band) with a visual artist that benefits a specific charity. Host a party to kick off the event.

– Write a song related to a specific cause and pitch it to a charity. Get them to release it, or get them to sponsor the production of a whole albums worth of songs related to their cause. Want help with this? email me shaneoconnorrecording@gmail.com

– offer to book a series of shows, with your band as the host all benefiting a specific cause or charity. Choose bands that are more popular than yourself to headline these events. This puts you in a position to leverage your band, while still helping the charity.

None of these ideas will make you money directly, but that is the point. The publicity, and karma, and relationships that you build through a commitment like this can be just the push your band needs. What are you waiting for? I am here to help. If you commit to this kind of thing, so will I.

Creating A Story Line.

A modern pop rock musician would think nothing of creating a series of albums that relate to a theme or have a cohesive story line.

A musician would jump at the opportunity to repeat a phrase to establish a consistent emotion to the listener.

So why would that same musician not take that aesthetic approach to marketing? Why not create a theme, and a culture around your images on flyers. Why not make them valuable and pieces of work that only a few people can get?

Why not create a story line within your merch (shirts?). If you want the audience to follow your every move, make it every move part of the storyline. everything an event.


The Power of Collaboration

As I have said before, in different contexts, collaboration is a key element to musical success in our new music economy. Although our culture celebrates rock stars as individuals that “rise from the ashes” without help from anyone, the reality of this, like most rock star myths, is not based in fact.
It is encouraging that hip hop has always, and is still promoting the idea that collaboration is a stronger selling point than any one artist or idea. A modern hip hop record will be filled with producer and co-songwriting collaborations that create a work larger than a single artist. Even in collaborative rock bands, this idea is rarely engaged in the same obvious manner. Rock bands may be collaborative within their tight circle of a group, but beyond that it is usually an uncharted territory.
What does this mean for your music?
– Collaboration Is A Way Out.
If you are stuck with some element of your personal music endeavors, a collaborative approach, even if it steers you away from your initial goal, can be just enough to push you back into where you need to be. If your band lost a drummer and cannot find anyone to fill the shoes…. start another band. If there is no other band, offer to play a different instrument for a singer-songwriter project. It could be just enough to get your band to focus on what you really should be doing.

-Collaboration Forces You To Learn.
The notion that you are playing with someone new forces you into musical territory that will be foreign in some way. As long as this is taken as a positive attribute, you can only grow stronger as a musician from it.

– Your Audience Will Grow
Either your audience will grow in intensity, with a more focused musical idea, or your audience will grow in numbers due to an expansion of musical ideas. Both ways you win.