I wanted to shed some light on some of the best ways to record for the highest possible quality in your sound. To do this I simply wanted to explain my top 10 tips for recording music.
Before I get started talking about this I do feel as though I should explain a little bit about myself.
Many of you may not know this but I, being CEO of Quality Rap Beats, actually started as a rapper before I ever made a beat. I’ve been recording and making beats professionally for over 10 years, I’ve been featured on TLC's 4 Weddings and worked with hundreds of artists World-Wide.
That would be just a start of my resume of course, considering I also own multiple online businesses. One thing that separates me from other producers is that I actually have always had a team of producers behind me. That means that I have vast experience in looking at music from an outside perspective.
One major problem that most producers have, rappers and beat makers alike, is that they are always looking at everything from a single perspective: the artist. This is an issue because you can easily trick yourself into believing something is exceptional when it’s mediocre, AND you are more likely to THROW SOMETHING AWAY that is actually phenomenal!
It goes both ways and I bet a lot of your producers out there already know this.
So, let’s get right down to a list of 10 tips for recording the highest quality sound possible.
1. AT LEAST USE A CONDENSER MICROPHONE AND A POP FILTER. This one is pretty obvious, I know, and actually to a high class mixing artist a lot of these may seem basic, but this is essential if you want to record high quality sound. You can work with what you have and make a pretty good sound, but not having a pop filter to put in front of your microphone will seriously effect your sound. A pop filter eliminates “popping”, which is in reference to when you create “w” sounds and the sort. The way your mouth moves when you say certain words can create massive distortion on any mic without a pop filter.
DO NOT get a cheap pop filter!! You need a pro pop filter like the Sterling Audio Pop Filter
Also at bare minimum you should have a condenser mic to put behind that pop filter! Don’t skimp when it comes to microphones especially because there are so many options at so cheap.
If you need a microphone under $100, the AT2020 Audio Technica Microphone is definitely your best bet in my opinion, check this one out by clicking the link in this sentence!
I used to own that microphone and it’s done me wonders! But if you have a little bit more money to spend, I would highly suggest getting this Shure KSM32 Microphone, which I’ve owned for years now and it’s truly got a great sound you won’t find for cheaper than $1000.
If you have a budget of around $1500, you could always go for the classic
$1,000 Neumann TLM-103 which is of course a tube microphone not a condenser mic and will get you a really top notch sound, being my first pick of a microphone over just over $1,000.
Of course if money isn’t an issue then you could go a little more crazy and get a microphone even Kanye West wouldn’t mind using. Get the mic that all the major labels use (it’s $3,200+ though, I will warn you). That microphone is the best there is under $4,000, and you’re going to get an impeccable sound from recording.
DON’T GO TOO CRAZY ON THE MIC, THOUGH!
Get the one you think would best suit your needs, because to record you’re going to need more equipment then that. You need an interface and a software to record in.
Finally the obvious part, you’ll need a computer. But we’re not going to go too deep into equipment. I just needed to mention the microphones as well as the interfaces, because in reality you can’t record top quality music without a setup including these things.
2. HAVE A GOOD INTERFACE SETUP AND USE A TUBE PRE-AMP. If you don’t have a tube microphone, definitely go to the extra expensive of buying a nice tube pre-amp as well. But you’re going to need a good interface setup to be able to record into your software. If you are using a condenser mic instead of the more expensive tube microphone options, then definitely get a tube pre-amp. It’s not expensive and it will dramatically raise the quality of your sound.
In fact, dare I say if you combine one of the condenser microphones mentioned above and you combined it with the same tube pre-amp which I have and only cost me $70, the Art Tube MP Project Preamp, you can easily increase it’s quality so dramatically that you’ll think you’re recording on a tube microphone instead of a condenser! I know I sure feel that way using this easy set up.
If you have bigger budget and want a better sound go with the Focusrite Saffire Pro 24
3. MIND YOUR VOICE, CALM DOWN!
I think it is a pretty wide spread belief that underground rappers seem to have that screaming at the person listening is a good way to make your songs sound good. In fact this is actually a way to make your songs sound a lot worse and it is not good for you to focus your energy in such a way. I used to be one of the artists guilty of doing this and I have since seen that my audience seems to respond much better if I am cool, calm and collected. You want to be the “cool guy”, not the “loud guy”.
Listen to any of the major hit artists and you’ll see that similarly they all rap in a calm tone of voice. Snoop Dogg got famous with N.W.A. because they were the first gangster rappers to rap about things like shooting people, selling drugs and prostitution, in a calm and relaxed voice as if it wasn’t even a big deal.
So seriously, see what happens when you start controlling your voice more, screaming less and overall sounding more professional. Not to mention if you mind your voice and are able to control it you’ll be able to make a much more diverse overall recording. For instance instead of being loud and obnoxious the entire time you could punctuate and actually change the energy of your voice throughout the verse to make certain parts “build” better.
The basics of creating music applies to rappers too. You can make your voice an instrument of an annoyance. Your choice. Though, of course, certain songs require a louder voice, I would think a song about love or addiction doesn’t need you screaming on it.
4. BE THE “COOL” GUY (OR GIRL) WHEN RECORDING. You know, I might as well call this “swag” because I feel like people would identify with that word more. But you want to sound like the cool person on the track. You should stand out as an artist to be somebody that sounds like, in general, they are actually cool. You do this through your voice, through your lyrics and most importantly how you distribute your lyrics.
Why would you want to record the same type of thing over and over again? The fact is you can make yourself a lot better in terms of your recording quality just by experimenting with different types of flows. Nobody wants to listen to the same repetition over and over again for several minutes, let’s be totally honest.
When it comes to the beats used in recording a great, top quality song, they can’t be too repetitive either UNLESS it is easy to listen to for several minutes in a row. What I mean by that is, the majority of simple songs will not be fun to listen to for more than a few seconds. You can’t just “copy and paste”, regardless how you think major artists do it, they definitely punctuate and make sure that everything sounds live.
If it doesn’t sound live, it won’t be cool and you won’t win.
5. LEARN HOW TO USE A COMPRESSOR AND A LIMITER A compressor and a limiter are very similar things. Some major producers swear by only using limiters, while others swear by only using compressor’s. You could technically use both but that would probably end up sounding way too over processed.
I’m not going to go too deep into this because I’m thinking about coming out with a course on how to mix, master and record. If this blog post does well then I will gladly create a video course where I take you right into our own recording sessions and show you exactly how to record, mix and master.
What a limiter does is simple, it brings the volumes closer together. This is how you get that “crisp” sound from your vocals instead of sounding like you’re recording in a closet or a basement or something.
But before you use a limiter or a compressor, there’s another thing you need to do. Which brings me to #6.
6. USE SOME SORT OF FILTER FOR ELIMINATING BACKGROUND NOISE. Usually this will be called “Noise reduction” or “Noise cancellation” in your recording software. There are usually several different options like this, such as “Hiss eliminator” and “Pop eliminator”. Remember earlier when I talked about “popping” the microphone if you don’t have a pop filter? Well you can get different types of pops in the recording from other things, most of the time it’s a flaw in your setup if you get glitches. You might want to research into the setup of your own equipment.
I know that I certainly had an incredibly hard time with this at first. It took me several tries to get my entire system working together in perfect harmony (meaning my software, my interface, my tube pre-amp, my microphone and the settings within all of those).
If you’re having pops on the recording, try to see if you can pinpoint the issue within your settings of your recording devices. Check the input and outputs, start there and research into your equipment. From what I’ve seen you want to make sure that the right amounts are going to the right places above all else.
But the noise reduction will simply take away the background noise, such as clothes ruffling and other low volume items. It works in decibels (dB), so you can actually eliminate just sounds up to a certain volume level.
7. WRITE FROM THE HEART. WHOA, NOT THAT THOUGH. Honestly I think this is one really should be important to everybody. If you don’t write from the heart then you’re not going to be able to get your music understood by an audience. But the problem is a lot of rappers think that writing from the heart means talking about how hard it is to be a no name rapper who has no money and nobody wants to help you out.
I mean let’s be honest. That’s about 50% of all the songs that come out in the under, under underground. From the small guys who are trying to make it but probably never will.
The reason this will not resonate with a wide audience is because most people don’t rap. So every song being about being a struggling artist really isn’t helping you in any way except for perhaps therapeutic purposes for yourself. However I would never spend hours and hours doing something just for myself but that’s just me. When I make music I make it for the world and I make it in order to market it.
Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself” is an example of a song that does resonate with others who have struggled though, and that’s great. The thing is the subject matter of that song is about the same as the subject matter of these underground rappers, so why does it not work for others?
It’s because the content of the lyrics do not create a descriptive presence.
When you listen to “Lose Yourself”, you can tell it’s written from the heart. But you can also see that the descriptive methods he uses in his song are to create an actual image in your mind that you can relate to, like his line:
“Knees weak, palms are sweaty, there’s vomit on his shirt already, moms’ spaghetti, he’s nervous. But on the surface he looks calm and ready to drop bombs, but he keeps on forgetting…” Eminem, Lose Yourself
Allow me to dissect that small section of lyrics a little bit. He’s not just talking about how it sucks to be a rapper who’s not going anywhere with his music, is he? Look at the actual words he uses and you will see they each connect to an actual thing on this Earth that every single person can relate to.
“Knees weak, palms are sweaty”. Now I don’t know about you but that’s a feeling I’ve had before. Whether it be waiting for a job interview that could make or break your entire career, or it be going on stage to perform in a contest with other contenders who are competing with you for the top spot.
He also uses words to describe the exact areas of his body are feeling. This means that while you listen, you might notice your own palms get a little sweaty or your knees feeling weak, as you relate to your own experiences with those exact same feelings.
He then describes vomit, which admit it, as soon as you hear the word you visualize a pretty powerfully disgusting thing. He even describes what’s inside the vomit, so that feeling gets taken even deeper.
Also as if none of us have experienced being calm and ready on the surface, but in reality it’s just a front because we’re shaking in our boots?
This is what separates the same song content that other users make, and turn it into something that actually resonates with your audience.
8. USE EQUALIZERS ON YOUR VOCALS Usually taking out the low end for the most part is going to help you achieve the results you want. I will attach an image I really like to use to actually see what equalizer properties you should bestow on each type of vocal. As you can see from the graph (attached below), male and female vocals actually have different properties. But in general, the super low stuff you can take out, and it adds some good quality to the sound of the vocals if you add a little bit of high-ends.
Having said that, if your vocals seem a little too “thin”, you can always experiment with the mid-high ends, which is where most of your vocals lie. So putting an equalizer on a vocal and adding a little in the mids can actually create a stronger sound.
9. DON’T RECORD ANYTHING YOU CAN’T PERFORM. This is a tip given to me by my friend Craze who is also a rapper and it’s a good tip. You want to sound natural when you’re recording and for that reason, never stuff so much into a verse that you can’t even perform it. In fact if you have to chop your vocal up several times, recording bits and pieces, I would tell you to practice your verse more and work it out.
You shouldn’t find it so difficult to record the sound you want, and so remain in control with your vocals and your lyrics. Plus you need to be perfectly on beat or even the average listener will notice.
10. NEVER STOP LEARNING. When it comes to recording, mixing and mastering, the industry just recently shifted to digital from analogue and the equipment coming out these days as well as the software is always becoming more powerful. So never give up on learning more about the art of recording because it is a never ending learning experience.
I hope this helped somebody! If you did, please let me know because I will come out with more of these blog posts and even create an entire video course on how to record, mix and master, as well as promote and other things.