Tips for Gaining a Strong Resonance in your Recordings
June 28, 2015
By Dave Lefkowitz aka “Lefko”
A strong and solid resonance can make a significant improvement in your recordings. Focusing on how instruments blend together can make the difference between a just ok and an exceptional recording. When all the instruments resonate vibrantly working together, the harmonious sound will surely allow the listener to connect more to it all! In a nutshell, our goal is to recording content where listeners will be drawn in - a strong tonal center allows for less effort to connect with the recording as well as more enjoyment when listening. A lead vocal will sound more professional as well when the tonal center is rock solid. Many hit records are great because producers put a lot of focus into defining their tonal center. Here are several tips to improve your recordings if you would like them to feel more open and resonant. You may notice also that by following these guidelines that there will be less need for corrective equalization, compression, and other types of signal processing in your recordings. And your tracks will sound wider and deeper as well.
Tune, tune, tune: Be very careful and disciplined with tuning your instruments. Invest in a nice tuner and calibrate it correctly. Use the same tuner for all the instruments so that there is a relative tuning among all the instruments. When tuning, always tune up. They say tune up for a reason. Have you ever heard of tune down? When tuning up the instrument tuners hold better and the string resonance is purer. So always drop the string down well below the pitch and then tune up. You will notice your chords and notes will ring out better, sustain more in key, and there will be more clarity in your sounds. Use your ears to confirm that the instrument is in tune- you will know when it’s right. I’ve worked with some great guitarists and they spent more time tuning than playing! So it’s not uncommon to spend more time in a session tuning instruments than actually recording.
The bass instrument defines your tonal center and is the fundamental resonance for the entire track! Make sure it is perfectly in tune and the notes are performed consistently. Who cares if the vocal is in tune if the bass isn’t in tune right? The vocal will never sound grounded if the bass is not. Everything is relative to the bass, so spend time on the bass! A great bass track can be played on it’s own and it should be sound grounded.
Use tones that blend together. Yes, everything can be in tune when it comes to your fundamental, but we must consider the overtone structure of each sound. Let’s just think of the electric guitar as an example - there must be a million combinations of amplifiers and pedals, and strings, and picks, and guitar models! You might like your sound but if it doesn’t work in a track then it’s time to change it somewhat. There is nothing better than finding the right “sound” for the song. Many artists have spent countless hours on how the sounds all fit together. Every detail counts. So a bit of experimentation and time can make a significant impact. And then we have microphone placement, microphone type, preamplifier type, and signal processing as well.
Make sure there is space for the lead vocal. Perhaps you should get your instrument tones with a reference vocal in mind. If the vocal can’t cut through there will be a problem in the mix to face.
Actively listen to the track while recording: A performer needs to constantly listen to the track and tonally shape as he or she is playing. How hard to hit the string, where to hit the string, how to press on the fret board will change the tonal shape of a sound. Picture a painter not looking at the canvas? Who paints blindly? That’s silly. A painter needs to paint to the painting. How much pressure on the brush, what type of brush to use, straight or wavy lines? This is the principle when recording. The production team is always actively listening to ensure the tones are blending correctly and everything is resonating to perfection.
Compositing: With DAWs we now have the power to composite performances. By recording several takes, there will be some takes that resonate better than others. There are so many factors when recording. If the temperature or humidity in a room changes over several hours or the tubes in an amplifier change temperature the sound will change. There will be obvious takes that are better sounding. So when compositing, you may consider using these performances. Notice which chords sound better than others. Perhaps one verse sounds better than another one? We have the power to make decisions and edit performances so that the overall impact of the sound is more resonant. Its amazing the results I’ve had by doing some simple editing with guitar chords and bass notes. A player is bound to hit the string incorrectly here and there and a couple off chords or notes are unnecessary - we are the fixers so make them sound good! So a little copying and pasting is not wrong. If the song feels better then do it. However try not to edit the life out of a performance and a slight margin of error is only human - it can make the track fuller when some instruments are detuned slightly.
Try having the singer re sing to the track once it’s all close to being edited and mixed. If the instrumental mix feels great on its own then the singer will be able to blend better, sing more in tune, and target the track better. Try it - you may be surprised how much more detail you will get out of the vocal!
A note on autotune: I feel that the best way to record is to do things organically. If you spend the time to capture things off the microphone without using too much processing and utilize punching and composting techniques to the fullest potential, you will have more natural recording. When using tuning software the overtone structure of the individual sounds can be altered and sound artificial. A good analogy is sugar. Splenda may be a good substitute but I eventually go back to the sugar because sugar is pure. I always end back to the more natural way of doing things regardless of how much more time it takes. We try things and sometimes we get to better places but always remember the roots and what has always worked over the years - use your own intuition to see what works best for you!
Good luck - Our main purpose is to have the listener connect more to a recording so using your ears is really everything. I hope that this article is helpful and you may utilize some of these strategies in your workflow!
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