Consistency, organization and sonic integrity are important when recording into a DAW. If you are a musician starting a record and you are recording it yourself, maybe for the first time, here are some things to keep in mind that will keep your computer sessions organized and make it easier to mix your recordings into a great listening experience later on.

1. Some suggestions for the recorder/DAW setup: Record at full 24 bits and don't use compression algorithms (such as those in the Roland 2480). Drives are cheap, and you'll never get those bits back. Set it to at least 44.1kHz as well, higher if your CPU can handle it (although 96k is probably good enough right now in my opinion; 48k is better than 44.1 but you have to convert mixes to make ref CDs of course), and keep the sample rate the same for the whole project.

2. Always label audio tracks before recording. This way the files you create will have that track name as well. Rename all earlier audio files to match the track label. A lot of tracks named just "audio 1" and "audio 2" will be confusing all down the line. Set your computer's Date & Time correctly to ensure correct time stamps on all files.

3. If you hear erratic clicks over the monitors, like a pensive monkey at a typewriter, a digital clock is probably set wrong somewhere. Yes, these clicks are being recorded, and the sound will be degraded! Check that all converters are reading the same clock.

4. If you do any destructive processing of sounds, such as pitch correction of tracks, always print tuned tracks to another track when you are done, so there will be both a processed and an unprocessed version of the track. Keep them side by side, with the one you don't want muted or made inactive. Your mixer might be able to do the same thing in a better way, later. Don't get rid of the original, unaltered audio file.

5. Don't bounce the lead vocal with reverb to a new track and then delete the dry one! Generally speaking, don't record plug-in reverbs onto the same track along with the instruments without thinking about what might happen to the sound down the line. Reverb tails can make editing difficult.

6. Try to keep tracks organized in an order that makes sense to you. You are probably going to move them around for editing at times, but put them back in order when you are done. Create Aux Inputs and use send-and-return routing for reverb, chorus, and delay effects. This is generally preferred to inserting them on the audio tracks. And doing this saves DSP, you can use one reverb and send to it at varying levels and pans, instead of inserting multiple instances of that reverb on lots of tracks and then using its "mix" control.

7. If you learn the smart key combinations, you can actually have fun "playing" your DAW editor. If you always have to go up the menus, you'll never see the light of day again. But don't be dainty about using the key combinations, it's almost a martial art. Hit the keys with clear, definite strokes-treat the computer keyboard like a funky old Wurlitzer, not like a medieval harpsichord.

8. Learn to use playlists for multiple takes of overdubbed parts. Then use Copy and Paste to compile the best bits to a "comp" playlist you create on the same track. That way all the source takes are all there "under" the comp, handy if you need to modify the compiled track as the song develops.

9. Don't record at close to the top of the metering in a DAW at 24 bits, don't "push the envelope." Average recording level can be at around -18, in the middle of the meter. It might look tame but it'll help the gain structure in mixing, and everything will sound better.

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

by Chris Stamey

This article is based on problems I've encountered over and over again when mixing home-recorded tracks. It may seem full of some super obvious stuff to some of us, but these things come up over and over again and could have easily been headed off at the pass, even by a first-time recordist. If you are a musician starting a record and you are recording it yourself, maybe for the first time, here are some things to keep in mind that will make it easier to mix your record into a great listening experience later on.

1. Use (beg, borrow) the best cymbals you can. Programs such as Drumagog can fix bad drum sounds somewhat later on, but crappy cymbals are not going to improve much in a mix.

2. If you can hear the air conditioner, your mic probably can, too. So cut it off while you are recording. (Then be sure to pay attention to the effect a change in temperature might have on your tuning, of course.) This goes double for the dishwasher!

3. Intonate that bass guitar before the session! (And all guitars.) If the bass is out, even on one string, everything higher is going to get wonky as you overdub, singers included. Your local guitar store can do this for cheap if you aren't sure about which way to turn those little screws on the bridge. Keep a tuner inline with all guitars, and ask everybody to retune after every take if there's time. You might need to check to see that all the different tuners agree, as well - there can be a lot of discrepancy there.

4. If you are recording a vocal in a bedroom or other untreated room with a directional mic, try to make at least the space behind the singer's head acoustically absorbent. Even if you don't have panels up, at least keep away from windows or mirrors.

5. Walk around your recording room with an instrument (acoustic guitar, upright bass, kick drum), playing it and listening to where it sounds the best. If it sounds good to you there, the mic will probably agree. Speakers and mics are only part of the equation; where they are in a room is a huge part of the sound. Generally, avoid mic'ing the center of the room, and also avoid putting the mic exactly halfway between the floor and the ceiling.

6. Consider using a pop filter with a singer, especially if there's a compressor down the line that might think it's just heard a kick drum come down the wire and try to grab it, hard. The metal ones cost more but will let more of the presence frequencies through.

7. If you record the bass (or other acoustic instruments) with a mic and also a DI, don't bounce them together onto one track. It takes time for sound to travel through the air; sound down a wire is almost instantaneous-so the waves cancel out somewhat when combined. Later you or your mixer can zoom in on both tracks and try to figure out the number of samples the mic is late, then adjust this so that the so-called "phasey" sound goes away when they are combined, and the instrument comes into focus.

8. If you are using a click with acoustic instruments, remember to record an extra ending section while everyone is tracking. You just need to get the last chord really. Let it ring while the click is off, so that there won't be any click "straggler" in the fade of the song to drive your mastering guy crazy.

9. Keep everything that was part of the basic take, even if you mute it or make the tracks inactive. Don't assume that the guitars or vocal tracks you overdub will be better than the ones that went down live.

10. A.I.R: "Always In Record." Even if the wires aren't all plugged in, record those runthroughs - they are often golden. Reach over and hit the key command; you can always blow it away later.

11. Beware of memorizing every detail of rough mixes, this will make mixing more expensive as you try to match them later, unnecessarily. (I rarely even make rough mixes any more if I'm going to be the mixer.)

Monitoring: Hearing Is Believing

by Chris Stamey

Setting up your listening situation for recording is vitally important, and it's also usually the step that aspiring recordists skip in their rush to start tracking. Here are some simple tips to help create a good listening environment.

1. To begin, you need to get your monitoring speakers in the best possible position in the best-shaped listening room you have. There are lots of (sometimes contradictory) resources about this out on the Web - read all you can first. "The Myth of the Sweet Spot" at is a good place to start. Allow plenty of time for moving your speakers around in the room and listening - it might take hours or days but it's worth it: once you find a place where they sound good, you'll be really happy about it. All your recording decisions will be shaped by what you hear on playback. There are lots of nearfield speakers that are really pretty okay; most rooms are really flawed. A great speaker in the wrong place is worse than a merely average one in the best position. You can find the best place for the speakers you have if you do some research and experimentation. And chair height--where you put your ears--matters, too! Sitting with your ears in the center of any room dimension (including halfway between ceiling and floor) will create problems due to the fact that the wall reflections will be exactly out of phase with the direct sound, causing deep nulls at certain frequencies. There are room-dimension calculators out there on the Web that can help you find the listening position and speaker locations that minimize the effect of the nulls caused by your exact room dimensions.

2. Once you get them in a good place, three (not four) metal speaker cones under each speaker will help the low end. These are available at audiophile sites. Old rubber mouse pads are a second choice for this. You can make hollow speaker-stand boxes out of wood and then fill them with sand, as well - the mass will help.

3. Try this: Carefully tape a little mirror flat over each tweeter and turn the speakers so you can see yourself in each mirror equally well when you stare at it. This gets the tweeters "looking" at your ears correctly. (Then remove the mirrors!) (The standard is to have the speakers at a 60-degree subtended angle, 30 degrees to each side of the listening position.)

4. As for the low end of your listening position, trust me: it's much wilder and erratic than you have ever dreamed. It's not just a question of the room being bass-heavy or bass-light. You don't have to have precision measuring equipment to show this. Get a synth keyboard with a low sine-wave bass sound and play it through your speakers while you sit in your normal listening position. (Or, better yet, use a disk with tones on it made for this purpose.) As you play up the chromatic scale from the lowest note, write down the notes that either jump out loudly or are very quiet. These are your problem spots - they'll be unfairly represented in the sound of a bass or kick drum. These often sound so dramatic that you don't need to hook up a microphone and "analyze" the low end in a more formal way. Be wary of the musical keys that include these notes as main elements. Next, walk around the room, repeating this test (with a friend playing the keyboard), and try to find places where the lowest octaves seem more even, note to note. It might be near the corner or down the hallway even. Later, you will know to get up out of your chair and walk to these places to get another angle on the low end of your recording or mixing.

5. And last but not least: When reviewing mixes later on other speakers, make sure the speakers don't have blown tweeters (it's surprising how frequently this occurs!).

Thanks to Wes Lachot and Brent Lambert.