Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

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KermitPickle
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Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by KermitPickle » Sat Oct 17, 2020 10:27 am

I hesitate to post this here because (a) I'm a little embarrassed that I need to ask after all this time and (b) I'm not even 100% what I should ask, but:

I've been making my little home recordings on and off for years now, at this point my old band is kaput & I'm just making music for fun, which is fine and appropriate. I feel like I've gotten a bit better at tracking/mixing over the years, and I might put together something that I think is coming along nicely...but then I'll A/B it with a friend's recordings or some record I like the sound of and, in comparison, mine sounds flat, lacking in space/depth/clarity, etc. That old story. Not that everything has to sound HUGE to be a good recording, and it's not like there's anything riding on this, but. There are times that I'd like to sound a little less lo-fi and I feel like I've hit a wall.

Can anyone comment on something they did that actually made a big, noticeable difference in their home recordings? Not necessarily "I bought a U67 and it rules" or "I spent $1 bazillion ducats on acoustic treatments" kinda thing (because I can't afford to do either), but more like a change in approach? Does that make sense?

I'm entirely self-taught and there may be some very basic, elementary stuff that I'm ignoring. I've developed some habits over the years that I thought made sense at the time but it may be that I'm just shooting myself in the foot--I don't know. I can give more details about my (lack of an?) approach if that would be helpful, but if anyone has any more general insight to offer about something that they felt made a big difference to their home recordings, I'd be interested to hear that.

Thanks.

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Re: Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by Zacharia Matilda » Sat Oct 17, 2020 12:11 pm

Can you talk a little more about your setup? Are you tracking to tape? I thought low fi went out the door when people started recording music with computers? I associate low-fi with a lot of stuff that came out in the early 90’s with bands putting out records that were recorded on boom boxes that sounded like ass. “College radio” music.

I’m right there with you in terms of mid fi recordings, but I’m tracking to tape with a Tascam deck so there is only so far I can go in terms of how “good” my recordings are going to sound. It suits the music I make and I like the workflow. I like the challenge of trying to get the best sounding recordings I can out of this archaic set up. “Clarity” and “sterility” have connotations in my mind. It’s my own bias I carry around. I love harmonics and distortion. It’s where the magic lives.

I have a six year old so I’ve been getting heavy exposure to top 40 radio, and I have to say that what those artists are doing and what I am trying to as an artist are very different things. It seems like a market where the song is not the most important thing. It’s how many tricks the producer can pull off in 3 minutes.

The Tascam deck has been the one constant in an ever-evolving signal chain, so I’ve been able to appreciate the difference when I changed out my mixing desk, got my outboard preamp and got my hands on better mics. I hate to say it, but gear (a good mic, especially) makes a difference, particularly if you’re recording anything acoustic in a room. Another thing I have found is drums drums drums. The drums are the hardest thing to record and have them sound “good”. But if the song is good and the drums sound good I’m over half way there in terms of being happy with the finished product.

Are there particular instrument you record that you feel you have a better handle on than others?

Ramble over.
Last edited by Zacharia Matilda on Sat Oct 17, 2020 12:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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numberthirty
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Re: Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by numberthirty » Sat Oct 17, 2020 12:18 pm

First, where someone is(as far as picking things up and having things dawn on you as you learn more...) is usually something that is worthwhile. It might minimize folks making suggestions that you are already up to speed on.

That said, I'm going to quote someone that I know who posted something elsewhere that wound up being almost exactly something that I had thought myself over the last couple of years -
One thing that took me way too long to learn was to high-pass filter pretty much everything. And get rid of excess low end on every track but the ones you want to carry that frequency range (e.g. the kick and bass). There's usually extraneous mud and rumble on everything, so cutting the low frequency stuff that isn't musically important makes room for big, clear low end for the instruments whose job it is.
This is something that made a particularly notable difference in things that were recorded in spaces that weren't really optimal recording environments.

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Re: Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by winky dinglehoffer » Sat Oct 17, 2020 1:46 pm

numberthirty wrote:
Sat Oct 17, 2020 12:18 pm

One thing that took me way too long to learn was to high-pass filter pretty much everything. And get rid of excess low end on every track but the ones you want to carry that frequency range (e.g. the kick and bass). There's usually extraneous mud and rumble on everything, so cutting the low frequency stuff that isn't musically important makes room for big, clear low end for the instruments whose job it is.
This is something I'm learning more about. I find the basic Reaper EQ plugin rather handy, as it gives you an idea of what levels you've got at different frequencies. On many tracks I'm finding a plethora of low end that's not adding anything to the sound of the song--just taking up headroom, basically. I'm still finding my way with all that stuff, but using the low-cut filter does seem to be helping me get where I want to be.

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Re: Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by KermitPickle » Sat Oct 17, 2020 2:40 pm

Zacharia Matilda wrote:
Sat Oct 17, 2020 12:11 pm
Can you talk a little more about your setup? Are you tracking to tape? I thought low fi went out the door when people started recording music with computers? I associate low-fi with a lot of stuff that came out in the early 90’s with bands putting out records that were recorded on boom boxes that sounded like ass. “College radio” music.
Sure, thanks for writing back. Yeah, you're right, I'm recording on Reaper on a laptop & an old (most of my recording stuff is at least 10+ years old by this point) MOTU interface. Probably it's fairer to call it mid-fi than lo-fi. I did record a lot on a 4 track for a while there but it died, so that's done with.
I’m right there with you in terms of mid fi recordings, but I’m tracking to tape with a Tascam deck so there is only so far I can go in terms of how “good” my recordings are going to sound. It suits the music I make and I like the workflow. I like the challenge of trying to get the best sounding recordings I can out of this archaic set up. “Clarity” and “sterility” have connotations in my mind. It’s my own bias I carry around. I love harmonics and distortion. It’s where the magic lives.
I like a lot of music that has a lot of distortion/blown out sound in it, yeah, but not everything I try to do really fits that all the time. I understand what you mean by sterile-sounding, but I don't think that's my problem so much. I'm using mostly cheap-ish dynamic mics on everything, I tend to shy away from condensers cause I felt like they emphasize some of the less flattering aspects of my not-super-suitable recording spaces. To me my recordings sound kind of dark and a little on the murky side, not super squeaky digital clean clean. Sometimes that sound works, sometimes not. I think a lot of older recordings that I like, ones that I know were done on tape, have more of an 'open' sound, if that makes sense. Mine are more squinched up, 'closed' sounding. Maybe that's all just low-mid murk from recording in my living room, but I do try to cut a lot of that stuff out with EQ if possible.
I have a six year old so I’ve been getting heavy exposure to top 40 radio, and I have to say that what those artists are doing and what I am trying to as an artist are very different things. It seems like a market where the song is not the most important thing. It’s how many tricks the producer can pull off in 3 minutes.
I have a 7 year old and a 16 year old! I hear a lot of top 40, some of it is terrible and production over song, some of it I like. I might not want to copy the production style, but if it has a big, open sound I appreciate the skill that goes into that. I am definitely not trying to replicate that sound, but maybe inch a little closer to, I dunno. Less squinchiness.
The Tascam deck has been the one constant in an ever-evolving signal chain, so I’ve been able to appreciate the difference when I changed out my mixing desk, got my outboard preamp and got my hands on better mics. I hate to say it, but gear (a good mic, especially) makes a difference, particularly if you’re recording anything acoustic in a room. Another thing I have found is drums drums drums. The drums are the hardest thing to record and have them sound “good”. But if the song is good and the drums sound good I’m over half way there in terms of being happy with the finished product.

Are there particular instrument you record that you feel you have a better handle on than others?

Ramble over.
Sigh...yeah, I get the nice mics/preamps deal. I am a cheap bastard but, ok. Fair answer, I get it.

Particular instruments, I dunno, I've had to record all sorts of weird stuff for various bands I've played in (flutes...saxophones...oddball stuff). I don't think I am especially better or worse at one thing or another, I'm not absolutely terrible at drums. In fact I think individual instruments sound ok when solo'd in my mixes, but the mix itself doesn't hang together at all.

I think this is probably just basic mixing stuff that I'm not good at. I'm okay with sparse arrangements, but in dense mixes with a lot of stuff happening, it's a struggle. And it's hard for me to pin down which instrument(s) are the problem, it's just everything combined. Maybe this is just poor room acoustics building up, maybe I'm just bad at making sure that instruments with overlapping frequencies don't step on each other too much. I feel like it's a puzzle that I can't solve, or a pattern my brain doesn't recognize. Does that make sense?

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Re: Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by losthighway » Sat Oct 17, 2020 2:41 pm

I'd say there are categories:

- Good sounding rooms (both a tracking room that sounds 'good' and a mixing room that sounds 'accurate')
- Solid mixing skills (most importantly using eq and compression)
- Good signal chain (most importantly preamps, mics, then other hardware like compressors can help too)

Do you suspect one of these areas to be more at fault?

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Re: Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by KermitPickle » Sat Oct 17, 2020 2:45 pm

winky dinglehoffer wrote:
Sat Oct 17, 2020 1:46 pm
numberthirty wrote:
Sat Oct 17, 2020 12:18 pm

One thing that took me way too long to learn was to high-pass filter pretty much everything. And get rid of excess low end on every track but the ones you want to carry that frequency range (e.g. the kick and bass). There's usually extraneous mud and rumble on everything, so cutting the low frequency stuff that isn't musically important makes room for big, clear low end for the instruments whose job it is.
This is something I'm learning more about. I find the basic Reaper EQ plugin rather handy, as it gives you an idea of what levels you've got at different frequencies. On many tracks I'm finding a plethora of low end that's not adding anything to the sound of the song--just taking up headroom, basically. I'm still finding my way with all that stuff, but using the low-cut filter does seem to be helping me get where I want to be.
Yes, this is one lesson I have learned...I hi pass regularly, using ReaEQ. Yep. It helps for sure, but I'm still fighting some murkiness.

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Re: Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by losthighway » Sat Oct 17, 2020 2:47 pm

Sorry, you clarified a lot of this at the same moment I was posting ^.

Re: murkiness.

In addition to the high pass filter recommendation, I'd also say low mids can really be the enemy. The 200hz-350hz region is often the worst buildup I struggle with. There are usually one or two instruments that have a fundamental in there that you don't want to kill, but for everything else, especially chord instruments with a broad range, that's where much of the muck lives.

Also, most of the excellent recordings you're listening to are mastered. Yours, I imagine, are not (?). It's not everything, but I'd say it's the last 5-10% of a good sounding record.

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Re: Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by KermitPickle » Sat Oct 17, 2020 2:56 pm

losthighway wrote:
Sat Oct 17, 2020 2:41 pm
I'd say there are categories:

- Good sounding rooms (both a tracking room that sounds 'good' and a mixing room that sounds 'accurate')
- Solid mixing skills (most importantly using eq and compression)
- Good signal chain (most importantly preamps, mics, then other hardware like compressors can help too)

Do you suspect one of these areas to be more at fault?
I think it's probably the 2nd category most of all, although it's all of them to an extent.

-Good sounding room: depending on the weather, I like to record in my garage, which is big and has a nice tall ceiling. It's not in any way acoustically treated (it has to function mostly as storage space) but it sounds not terrible. When weather is not suitable I have to use my living room, which sounds like a living room. I notice a BIG difference in the way drums especially sound in the garage vs. the living room. So the garage is, I'd say, useable if not great.

-Solid mixing skills - I feel like I lack these most of all. Probably should concentrate here. I tend to use compression fairly lightly because I feel like I'm apt to go overboard and crush everything and it becomes too harsh/fatiguing. EQ, I have only really learned to use it in a very basic, hipass/lopass/cut out obvious problem areas way. I've struggled with this long enough that I could def. use some guidance in this department.

-My signal chain is all inexpensive stuff...mostly SM57s, EV 635a, an inexpensive ribbon mic, that kind of thing. All into the built-in pre's in my old MOTU. It's not cheap/dire but it's all prosumer-level. I still have a couple of inexpensive condensers I bought years ago (Oktava 319, CAD M179) but I shy away from using them because I never thought they were an obvious improvement on my dynamic mics. Maybe I should revisit this.

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Re: Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by KermitPickle » Sat Oct 17, 2020 2:59 pm

I've got to step away for a bit (to read to my daughter!). But I'll check back in later today, I really appreciate the responses here. Thank you.

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Re: Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by Snarl 12/8 » Sat Oct 17, 2020 5:20 pm

I gotta say, I'm realizing that gear is a huge part of this. I bought a new mixer and recorder this year that are higher fidelity than anything I've ever used before and my recordings are higher fidelity. Like mind-blowingly higher. You can only do so much with audio that's been put through bad circuitry. I'm sorry, I know this isn't the TapeOp ethos, but it's been true for me.
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Re: Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by numberthirty » Sat Oct 17, 2020 5:36 pm

Snarl 12/8 wrote:
Sat Oct 17, 2020 5:20 pm
I gotta say, I'm realizing that gear is a huge part of this. I bought a new mixer and recorder this year that are higher fidelity than anything I've ever used before and my recordings are higher fidelity. Like mind-blowingly higher. You can only do so much with audio that's been put through bad circuitry. I'm sorry, I know this isn't the TapeOp ethos, but it's been true for me.

While I don't want to be a total Grinch and seriously believe in jamming econo as much as possible, there really is something to this.

There was a very real difference when I went from an Oktava MK219 to an AT4033. An even bigger difference when I socked aside the money to have Oktavamod do a MXL990.

That second one was the real eye opener. Just a "Night"/"Day" difference from the initial MK219. Never mind the difference between the MXL990 when it was "Stock" versus after the modification. Real bummer about that no longer being an option.

Never mind lots of the same issues on the "Where Things Go From The End Of The Microphone Cable..." front.

Even modest improvements there will solve a lot of problems.

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Re: Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by numberthirty » Sat Oct 17, 2020 5:41 pm

One other thing about SM57s(or the SM7) and lots of ribbons(but particularly less expensive ones...) -

Something like a Cloudlifter(or some of the other options there...) The gain they give you meaning not having to really crank a less expensive preamp can make a really big difference on some things. Just gives you a big advantage on the "Signal"/"Noise" front.

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Re: Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by numberthirty » Sat Oct 17, 2020 5:46 pm

losthighway wrote:
Sat Oct 17, 2020 2:47 pm
Sorry, you clarified a lot of this at the same moment I was posting ^.

Re: murkiness.

In addition to the high pass filter recommendation, I'd also say low mids can really be the enemy. The 200hz-350hz region is often the worst buildup I struggle with. There are usually one or two instruments that have a fundamental in there that you don't want to kill, but for everything else, especially chord instruments with a broad range, that's where much of the muck lives.

Also, most of the excellent recordings you're listening to are mastered. Yours, I imagine, are not (?). It's not everything, but I'd say it's the last 5-10% of a good sounding record.
Going to have to second this point.

Seems like even some close miked parts of a drum kit can sometimes be an issue when it comes to this.

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Re: Lost in the wilds of lo/mid-fi -- your thoughts please.

Post by losthighway » Sat Oct 17, 2020 6:17 pm

Two other exercises come to mind, that might not be an instant fix for a particular mix, but might gain perspective that is helpful.

1) Take your rendered track and play it through something that has a handy graphic or parametric eq. Ideally this would be a home studio so you'd be in a different environment, but if not possible through your recording rig. Use the eq to push around the mix track. Intuitively what are you doing to make it sound 'right' on the stereo. Where are the cuts/boosts? After noting those bring things back to zero and repeat those same moves but listen for what instruments are effected. Does a particular cut mainly clean up the guitar, or bass etc?

2) Go to one of your mixes and do a 'save as' to make a duplicate file. Title this one 'song name- thin & bright vers'. Proceed to make a mix a little outside of your comfort zone as if it were for a client who said they had a weird taste for really thin and bright recordings "(maybe it was based on an underground 80's garage band). Try to do a pleasing example of this decidedly different approach. Bounce it. Take a break, then sit in another listening environment and play the thin and bright version, followed by your regular version. What was gained? Where do you mainly miss the lows? Is it too bright? Are some things actually better, while others were overdone?

This kind of stuff is time consuming, and can sometimes send me into a 'chasing my own tail' kind of trip, but sometimes I realize things about what I'm working with.

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