6 Down and Dirty Recording Techniques
Most of the time the aim of a great recording is to get a pristine and realistic capture of the sound of the instrument (or voice) in the room.
But sometimes the goal is to get extra grungy with a side of hot sauce.
So here are six recording techniques to give you that captivating filth so many of us love.
1. Put It Through an Amp
This is a fairly common one, but worth mentioning. Guitar amps are traditionally for guitars. But that doesn’t mean you can’t shove other stuff through there!
Put a mic in front of your source, run that mic backwards through a DI (or don’t), and plug it into the guitar amp. You’re going to get a noisey, crunchy, distorted version of your source sound.
Practically, this could sound great in parallel to give the sound a bit of grit and edge.
Not so practically, it could just make for a cool effect as the main sound.
2. Mic the Wrong Place
Those instruments often have places where you normally wouldn’t mic. The back of the guitar, the underside of the piano, or a personal favorite — putting a mic on electric bass guitar: the actual guitar, not the amp.
While these almost always sound like crap in solo, they can add a presence or a texture that you wouldn’t normally get when blended with a more traditional capture.
3. Miking the Wrong Direction
This is actually something I do fairly often. When setting up a room capture, rather than pointing cardioid mics toward the sound source from far away, aim the mics at the walls.
The result is generally a filtering of the direct sound which makes the late reflection of the room more present.
Now, when I say fairly often, I mean maybe 10% of the time — again traditional miking techniques are usually better unless you want something that is more of an effect.
4. Use a Non-Traditional Microphone
An SM57 is a go-to mic for recording snare drum. It is not a go-to mic for drum overheads. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use it!
A dictaphone or portable cassette recorder is great for recording quick ideas on the go. It also has an interesting sound on piano.
Just because it’s not the right mic for “the job” doesn’t mean it’s not the right mic for the job.
One of my favorites is using a narrow sounding ribbon mic off-axis for a rhythm guitar part double. It catches all the core stuff with very little low end or high end — which sounds like bullshit on its own, but fits perfectly as a doubled part.
5. Use Something That “Isn’t a Microphone”
You know what isn’t a microphone? Your headphones aren’t microphones, your monitor speakers aren’t microphones, and the pickups in your guitar aren’t microphones.
You know what are microphones? Yup — your headphones, monitors and pickups.
They can all be used as microphones. Do they sound good? Hell no. Do they sound cool. They sure can.
Heck, even a telephone receiver can be wired into a microphone. No rules.
6. What’s Better Than One Preamp?
Two preamps? Three preamps! Four preamps!! You might need a couple inline pads, but there’s no reason you can’t daisy chain preamps together for extra tone and “saturation.”
The bottom line is that one well-placed “bad” sound, particularly amongst a bunch of lush and pretty ones can be awesome.
Sometimes a whole bunch of lo-fi sounds can be awesome. Really it just depends on the vision for the record.
As long as the record is hitting the listener in the right way and conveying the right emotions there are no rules.
And sometimes it’s just more fun to mess something up than to polish it.
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