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5 Recording Tips from Warren Huart

Transcript
Hello, lovely people. Hope you’re doing marvelously well. As ever, please subscribe, hit the notification bell, and you’ll be notified when we have a new video. And of course, you can go to producelikeapro.com and you can sign up for a multitude of multitracks. And of course, you’ll get some free videos, you’ll get some drum samples — lots of great drum samples — and tons of other fun things.

So what are we doing? We are doing five, that’s one, two, three, four, five, essential recording tips.

These are the five tips that I strongly believe are the most important, and maybe not as obvious, and some might be very obvious, but these are things that I do every single day and I think about every single day when I go to record.

So firstly, number one. Get the headphone mix right. I know I’ve talked about this on other videos before, but I wanted to reiterate it. This is to me, the most important thing when you’re working with other people. Artists need to hear not only themselves, but a mix that inspires them, so get a really great, inspirational mix together for your artist.

If it’s a singer, they may want to be smothered in reverb and delays. Whatever it is, and whatever they need to perform. I have heard people say, “Don’t use too much reverb and delay, it might affect the performance.” That could be true, but if your singer is not comfortable, then it won’t matter if you have too much or not enough. You need to set the headphone mix the way the artist wants it to be.

So what do I do before every vocal? I go in there and I listen to the headphone mix. Luckily for us, we have a headphone setup over here, which is identical to what they’re hearing, so we can adjust the mix accordingly. Setting a good headphone mix is imperative to get a great result from your artist.

Number two, create templates for a faster setup. This is a big one. We all know about mix templates. It seems that everybody has their mix template that they want you to download and use. That’s absolutely fantastic. What may work for them may not work for you, and vice versa.

However, the thing that you should make for yourself is a recording template.

I have recording templates where all of the drum inputs are already there to go. The mics are setup on the drum kit, and I just open up a template, and it’ll have input one, two, three, four, correspond to kick, snare top, snare bottom, hi-hat, overheads, and toms.

All of those inputs are ready to go, so I just open my template and click record, and I am working immediately. Have your vocal with its assigned input on it.

It’s a huge part of what we do is to be able to record at any given time, so if you’ve got your own home studio, even if you just have a two or four input system, have it ready, setup. Have that microphone plugged in, ready to go with a template, with an input on it from a vocal, and you can just get going on it straight away.

It’s really important to be ready to record.

So to add to that point, three. Always be recording. ABR. I’ve been saying that one for years. I’ve heard it for years. Always be recording. What does that mean? That means being ready to record at any given time. The best microphone to use is the one that’s ready to go. If you’re in a room with creative people and they’re ready to put an idea down, and you stop and spend 20 minutes patching things in? Not good.

You need to be ready to go. You need to be ready to create music. It doesn’t matter if it’s an inexpensive dynamic mic or an expensive condenser, or anything in between. The quality of the mic is not as important as the capturing of the performance. You need to keep momentum going, you need to keep the inspiration going. And as many people have said, Ulrich Wild comes to mind, “The best microphone for the job is the one you have in your hand.”

We all know that story that Geoff Emerick talks about using, the AKG dynamic microphone on lots of things, because it was always plugged in, and he could just quickly move it. I know many, many engineers and producers that have a favorite mic that they’ll use in ten different situations, and they’ll just move the mic. Acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocal, percussion, mono piano mic, bass guitar amp mic. You know, you name it. One mic that can move around. That could be a 57. It could be something even cheaper.

Be ready to record. Always be recording. What does that also mean?

That also means when you’re working on a song with an artist, keep a 2-track going. Keep just a mono mic going. We run it all the time. When we’re sitting in this room in here, and we’re working on guitar ideas, or vocal ideas, whatever it might be, we’re always recording, because what happens if someone goes, “Oh, that was a really great harmony, what was it?” “Oh, I don’t remember.”

We have a mic sitting down here, recording whenever we’re doing a pre-production, whenever we’re working on parts, we’re always recording. Do it on your phone. Do it on your Android, do it on your iPhone. Always be recording. Make sure you capture ideas.

You’ve heard me talk about this before. I did a song with Chris Allen. All of the background vocals were recorded into a laptop actually at an airport. And we used those on a song, which actually turned out to be a big song. So always be recording. Capture ideas no matter what medium you’ve got. It’s better to get the idea than to have the idea lost in the ether and never be remembered, so always be recording.

Fourth, organization. It is so important. Label your tracks properly. There’s nothing worse than coming back to a session maybe six months later, and opening it up, and you’ve made all of these funny nicknames, but they don’t make any sense to you anymore.

I had a bass player who used to be my engineer, and he would always write, “Fish” for bass. Like bass, the fish. So he’d write fish. Which is cool. I knew what he meant, he was a bass player, he thought it was funny. Bass, bass, fish, hahaha. However, you send it off to Michael Brauer, and he’s like, “What’s the fish track?”

Not everybody is going to sit there and audition your 196 tracks and relabel them so they know what they mean. So come up with a nomenclature. Come up with a system that works for you, but also works for anybody who might be overdubbing on your track, or mixing it at a later date, or even yourself opening up in six months time and trying to decipher.

It’s cool to do, “Sn” for snare. We all know that that probably means snare, and, “Sn T,” snare top, “Sn B,” snare bottom. These are all things you could do. I tend to write mine out pretty substantially, so anybody can understand it, but there’s certain abbreviations that work.

OHD for overhead. I see that all the time. If it’s split into mono, L and R, these are all things we know, but when you start joking around and being silly, it’s a lot of fun, however, it might not work when you’re sending it to other people.

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Next thing, group your tracks together and organize them really well. If you’re doing a bass overdub, make sure your drums are all together. What I’ll often do is I’ll go kick, and snare, and hat, and toms, and overhead, and room, et cetera. I’ll do all of that stuff, and then I’ll put my bass track in between my kick and my snare.

For real. When I’m overdubbing it, I’ll slot it nicely between kick and snare. So my bass is sitting there between the kick and the snare. Why is that?

Well, it’s quite obvious really, isn’t it? The bass player is playing to the drummer. And if I put that on a room mic, where I’ve got tons of transients going crazy, hi-hats, cymbals, kicks, snares, it’s just a bunch of this. If I sit it nice and neatly between the kick and the snare, if I want to edit on the fly quickly, I’m punching into something, and I hear a bass note go by that’s a little early or a little late, I can just quickly, easily, visually nudge it towards the kick a little bit more, or nudge it back behind the kick, whatever the feel I want, and I can do it while I’m listening past that.

I like, personally, to work very efficiently, and if the drums are laid first, they can become my bible. They can become the thing that I use to obviously make the whole track feel really good.

So proper labelling and really effective, tight grouping. So your drums are together, your bass inputs are together, your electric guitars, your acoustic guitars, your keyboards, whatever it might be, make sure they’re all nicely organized, not only for other people to open up later, but also for yourself. Moving between tracks is so much easier when they’re labelled really well, and they’re organized really well, and as you know, opening up somebody’s session and everything is called, “Audio” is like, mind bogglingly horrible.

So label and organize your tracks well. And to be honest, if you’ve built yourself a nice template, it should work out pretty easily.

Going back to number two, create a really nice template!

Last but no means least, number five. Click track or no click track? This is a big one. This is a hotly debated subject. Obviously, if you’re doing pure EDM, or modern Pop music, it’s pretty likely you’re going to be cutting to a click. 99.9% of the time, you’ll be cutting to a click, or you’ll be cutting to a drum loop, and you’ll be copying and pasting stuff around.

I mean, just turn on modern Pop music radio, and you hear that on every song. Everything is gridded and perfect and in time, and there is nothing wrong with that if that is your genre.

However, if you’re working in other genres, you may or may not want to use a click. Two things I remember. Working on X-Factor as the staff producer, they asked me to reproduce an ACDC song. It was Back in Black, and I thought of all the guys, Mutt Lange, one of the greatest producers that ever lived, that’s probably going to be the most tightest, perfect recording ever.

Heck no! It fluctuates in tempo all over the place, but has anybody ever listened to Back in Black and thought there was a problem with it? Of course not. Back in Black is one of the greatest recordings ever. It’s an incredibly interesting song on so many levels, but it feels so good. Try driving to that song. You just end up driving 20 miles an hour fast. It just propels. It’s great, but it’s not cut to a click. It just feels good, start to finish, and there’s no cohesive single tempo which you’d expect, or I expected from a Mutt Lange production.

No, it’s just a really, really good feeling track.

Now, I’m not here to debate whether to use click tracks or not necessarily, I’m just posing all of the questions.

Another thing I did is work on the Thrills album, Let’s Bottle Bohemia. And that was tracked on tape, with yes, you guessed it, no click.

Then, we took all of the tape, and transferred it into Pro Tools, and I started doing overdubs on it, and we’d get all of these tracks, and after awhile, we realized that the best feeling instrument on that album was the piano player, and if offered two things as well. The piano was tracked live with the drums. In fact, most of the band was tracked live, so the bleed from the drums to the piano was enormous. So we were kind of — couldn’t do a lot. We could take tracks of the piano that felt really good and then tie them up to the drum takes that corresponded, but ultimately, the piano. The piano felt so good and grooved so well, that everything, if I needed to edit or overdub, was done to, you guessed it, the piano.

The piano was cranked in the room. We’d have the piano piling out, and all of the guitar, the acoustic, everything. Every instrument that was overdubbed was overdubbed to the piano in the foreground.

So it’s not always necessarily about clicks. There’s obvious things like shakers, with groove and feel, drum loops, maybe a loose drum loop. So much more inspiring to listen to than the, [imitates click track], which is like an ice pick through the head for a drummer.

But finding things like instruments, shakers, loops, lots of other different ways to build your song so it feels great, and I would look for that in a song. I’d look for that in a song from a mixing perspective. When you come to mix, what’s driving the song?

With a band like that, sure as heck we’d be mixing it from the piano up. As you know, I worked with The Fray. That was mixed with very piano centric. I mean, the songs were written from the piano. Everything on the first two pianos was written around the idea of the vocal and the piano, so everybody played to, you guessed it, the piano. The piano drove the song.

When we’re doing overdubs, the piano was cranking in the headphones. So it’s not always necessarily about the click track, but don’t be dismissive of it, because in certain genres, especially working with virtual instruments, and MIDI, and all of the kind of dance elements, and Hip Hop, and all of that kind of stuff, often they are going to be gridded, they’re going to be copying and pasting stuff around, and that is fine. That is genre specific.

But try different things other than straight ahead clicks. Have some fun with it.

So thank you ever so much for watching. As ever, please subscribe, hit the notification bell, if you go up over here and click on this link that’s flying around here, you can get a cheat sheet, and that cheat sheet will go through everything we just talked about, and you can sit there and study the cheat sheet and have a marvelous time recording!

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Have a marvelous time recording and mixing, and I’ll see you again very soon.

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.

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